‘By Reef and Palm’ is a compilation of yarns written by Louis Becke. It is the author’s first collection of stories inspired by his South Pacific travels.
Since the arrival of the first Europeans, life in the South Seas hasn’t been quite the same. The lure of a tropical paradise, so hard to resist, brings more and more traders to the remote islands of the Blue Continent. And it seems that money is not the only reason for that. What really attracts the Westerners are the most beautiful native women. But in the world of different cultures love isn’t always sweet – it’s complicated, often tragic; it evokes joy, only to cover it with sorrow.
Not many have ever heard of Louis Becke, so let me introduce the man first. He was a little-known Australian writer and novelist, thoroughly captivated by the Blue Continent. His works, although extremely interesting, have never won high praises from critics. But the truth is, very few authors have had a chance to get to know the islands of the South Seas as well as Becke did. He might not have been the greatest storyteller of all time, nevertheless he had the ability to attract readers.
‘By Reef and Palm’ consists of 14 narratives, and as one may expect, they vary considerably in quality. Some of them grab your attention right from the beginning, others simply fail to impress. But such was Louis Becke. He cared less about literary style, more about conveying a certain message. His only desire was to shed some light on the turbulent, lawless period in the Pacific history. As a man of the sea and a keen traveller, he had seen the unheavenly side of the wonderland: brutality, violence, abandonment, deception. Paradise may be lined with beauty, but evil lurks around the corner. This seems to be the moral of each and every tale. So sad, yet so true.
The most striking feature of this title is its authenticity. The author tells the stories in a very candid manner. He doesn’t beat around the bush – he gets straight to the point. There’s no room for poetry here; nothing is sacred, everything is exposed. That is why this compilation doesn’t make an easy read. By no means is this a charming little book about adventures in the South Seas. It’s intense, terrifying, at times quite gruesome. The horrific subject matter sets a gloomy tone that lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.
In his writings Louis Becke managed to capture the essence of the colonial Pacific Islands. Not many authors succeeded in doing so. That’s reason enough to grab this volume. I don’t think you will be disappointed if you decide to bury yourself in Becke’s words. Chances are, you will even come back for more.