‘The Ebbing of the Tide’ is Louis Becke’s second collection of fictionalized short stories inspired by his adventures in the Pacific Islands.
As the Blue Continent becomes more settled by the visitors from the Western World, indigenous Islanders get showered with not-so-wanted gifts of civilization: cruelty, greed, jealousy, resentment, malice. The once-peaceful paradise starts to uncover its dark, rough side; life mixes with death, love with blood, laughter with tears. And yet, despite the hidden dangers, the natives and the incomers are inexplicably drawn to each other. Much like two magnets with a force as strong and irresistible as gravity.
This book is very similar to Becke’s first collection of the South Seas yarns, ‘By Reef and Palm’. It’s equally good and engaging; it’s equally tragic; it’s equally honest. And, just like its predecessor, it’s hard to read at times.
None of the 21 stories could be described as light-hearted. This extremely realistic portrayal of the islands many consider a tropical paradise is a chilling, often shocking account written by a man who ‘saw it all’. Louis Becke was not only a novelist; he was a traveller, sailor, trader, and some people say, even a pirate. His ‘friendship’ with the infamous buccaneer, William ‘Bully’ Hayes, resulted in many adventures, during which Becke witnessed the dramatic and far-reaching effects of ‘civilization’. The clash of cultures, the clash of traditional values and ‘Western’ moral codes, took a heavy toll on the Pacific’s native inhabitants. Their serene, harmonious world suddenly faded into oblivion, and dark clouds appeared on the horizon. Very few people had a chance to see the tragedy and devastation. Louis Becke was one of them. And his tales, although considered fiction, are a valuable record of the Pacific Islands’ history.
Of course, as is always the case with compilations, some of the narratives are better than the others. Nevertheless, all of them are worth reading. The author’s literary rawness – quite exceptional, to be honest – fantastically reflects the reality of the South Seas’ colonial past. Becke might not have been on a par with Robert Louis Stevenson, James Michener, or Jack London, but he was a master storyteller, and his works – ‘The Ebbing of the Tide’ among them – definitely prove it.
If you want to travel back in time, this book can serve as your time machine. It will transport you to the Blue Continent the minute you start reading the first page, taking you to all the places you’ve probably always dreamt about. From the Marshall Islands to French Polynesia, from tiny Pitcairn to New Caledonia… Take this opportunity and cruise the Pacific Ocean. Let Louis Becke be your captain. He is phenomenal. You couldn’t ask for a better person to do the job.