‘Jerry of the Islands’ is a novel written by Jack London. It is set in the Solomon Archipelago and, as it can be read in the author’s foreword, was based on real-life events.
Jerry is an Irish terrier bred in the Solomon Islands by Mister Haggins, a white trader. Since puppyhood, he has been taught to do only one thing – chase niggers, the native inhabitants of the region. And so he does. He excels in his job and is soon given to another trader, Captain Van Horn, who quickly becomes Jerry’s beloved, one and only ‘white-god’. As they travel from island to island and from bay to bay, Jerry’s love for his owner grows stronger every day.
This peaceful time ends when Van Horn’s ship, Arangi, gets attacked by the natives of Somo. None of the crew members survive and Jerry is suddenly left all alone amongst the people he once treated as his biggest enemies.
While living with cannibals, Jerry is handed over from one person to another until he finally finds a new master – the black-god. But he isn’t happy. He misses his life aboard the Arangi. He misses chasing niggers. And as he thinks that nothing will ever change his poor existence, a new ship appears on the horizon.
This is undoubtedly one of the best books written by Jack London. It is an utterly compelling adventure story that gives you fascinating insights into the life in the Solomon Islands during the brutal times of blackbirding and lawless trading.
What is most interesting about this novel is the fact that readers have a chance to see Melanesia from a dog’s perspective – an animal unfailingly loyal to his owners. The author decided to make Jerry’s faithfulness the core subject of this title. The result? You feel for the dog, no matter what he does. He obeyed his masters’ orders, chased the natives and mauled them, just because his white-gods wanted him to do it. And yet you, despite everything, still have this genuine sympathy towards him. This was indeed a very clever idea. It is not a secret that London’s books have always been considered racist, and this one is definitely not an exception – the author’s prejudice seems to be at its highest point here. For Jack London, the people of the South Seas simply weren’t good enough. But when you tell the story from a (little, sweet, loving) dog’s point of view, it doesn’t seem half as xenophobic as it really is.
Quite surprisingly, some of the novel’s most enticing characters are the ones you meet in the tribal area. The native Solomoners – Lumai, Bashti, doctor Agno, and Nalasu – are a truly fascinating mix. Some of them are easy to like, others – easy to hate, but they all capture attention. More than the white travellers from the ‘civilized world’.
When it comes to London’s writing style, this book is a masterpiece. From vivid descriptions to electrifying action to thought-provoking statements – this novel has it all. It is nearly impossible to get bored with it, as it scores on all fronts. Jack London was a master of words. And this cannot be denied.
All in all, I couldn’t recommend this title more, especially for fans of ‘dog books’. It is a truly wonderful narrative filled with unexpected twists and turns. You will fall in love with Jerry as soon as you start reading about his adventures. And you will not want to leave his side.