‘South Sea Tales’ is a collection of eight short stories set in different countries of the Pacific region in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were inspired by London’s travels and many of them describe actual events witnessed by the author.
In the days of tall ships and distant voyages, life in the South Seas is not a pleasant one. Hard-working natives need to deal with those who invade their lands: abusive blackbirders and born-to-swindle traders. It’s easy to think that the locals are victims and foreigners – oppressors. This is indeed the case. But when brutalized Islanders try to kill their masters and steal their goods, it’s the other way round. Suddenly they become perpetrators and white people – victims. Such is the reality of the South Pacific; nothing and no one is plainly black or white.
Whatever you have heard about ‘South Sea Tales’, let me tell you one thing: this book provides an interesting, invaluable insight into the life and culture in the Pacific Islands during the colonial period. The collection, which is focused mainly on relations between natives and Westerners, lets you learn quite a bit about the often barbarous history of the Blue Continent. It is also one of not so many books that broaches the subject of cannibalism – a mystery people prefer not to talk about anymore.
The stories are compelling and greatly entertaining, however they could probably be more diverse – yes, they are rather monothematic. They contain a lot of really long descriptions, which absolutely shouldn’t put you off as they are truly captivating and will give you an opportunity to literally ‘see’ all those beautiful and sometimes scary places through the eyes of your imagination.
Now, although cannibalism, brutality, and slavery are the most recurring themes in this book, there are three stories that break that pattern. ‘The House of Mapuhi’ and ‘The Seed of McCoy’ represent the ‘man against the nature’ theme. ‘The Heathen’, on the other hand, is a beautiful tale of devotion and a lifelong friendship between two men.
Of course, some of the narratives will probably suit your taste better than the others, nevertheless all of them are worth reading and I can guarantee that every single one will leave a lasting impression in your mind. Let’s be honest here, how often do you have a chance to travel back in time to the dark days of enslavement, savagery, and lawless trading? Such opportunity is given to you by Jack London. And by no means should it be missed.
That being said, I am not sure the book is suitable for very young readers due to its racist content and the somewhat archaic language that may be quite hard to understand. Plus, it deals with rather serious issues so younger teenagers will probably have trouble discovering the true meaning of each story.
All in all, if you like nautical and sea adventures, if you are interested in the history of the Pacific Islands, or if you want to read gripping tales set in the exotic lands, this book will be perfect for you. But remember – it is definitely not a piece of light-hearted literature!