‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’ is a memoir written by Peter Rudiak-Gould, who spent twelve months working as a teacher on Ujae – a coral atoll in the Marshall Islands and one of the most remote places in the world.
Peter, a fresh graduate, decides to become a volunteer. He applies to the WorldTeach program and soon after that moves to the Republic of Marshall Islands. From Majuro, the capital of the country, he sets out to Ujae in order to teach English in a local elementary school.
Peter’s dream of an idyllic island life is quickly shattered into pieces. The place is not exactly as he imagined it would be – the nearest telephone, car, hotel, store, or even road are miles away, and the only thing he can see is blue water. He doesn’t speak the natives’ language and the natives don’t speak his. What is worse, his new job turns out to be real hell on earth.
Although his sojourn on Ujae is filled with ups and downs, Peter gradually starts noticing its positive sides. He makes friends with local inhabitants and begins to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. But most importantly, he discovers who he really is.
If you have ever dreamt of escaping to a tropical island, this book will get you there. Literally. The way Peter Rudiak-Gould depicts the surroundings is just phenomenal. With his vivid language, he paints a very real picture of a remote archipelago, its people, and their fascinating culture. And he does it in a light-hearted, humorous manner that is both enjoyable and extremely pleasant to read.
Now, although ‘Surviving Paradise’ is a personal memoir, the author doesn’t write much about himself. Instead, he uses his adventures as an ‘excuse’ to acquaint readers with the country. Everything he describes – his spearfishing escapades, his teaching efforts, or even the locals’ attire – serves a higher purpose. He doesn’t only share his experiences and observations, he educates us. He explains the Marshallese way of life: customs, traditions, and beliefs; expounds on the tragic history of the islands; and delineates the most important political issues. Quite a few pages are dedicated to global warming – a growing problem we should all be aware of, even though some people still refuse to acknowledge its existence.
Apart from being a wonderful piece of travel literature, the book is also a detailed and compelling linguistic study. The author’s narrative contains an unusually large number of Marshallese words. They form a kind of mini dictionary that may come in handy for those of you who plan to follow in Peter Rudiak-Gould’s footsteps and one day visit that Micronesian paradise. And if you’d like to broaden your linguistic knowledge even further, you can download Peter’s textbook: ‘Practical Marshallese’.
The engaging story, of course, is unquestionably the highlight of this memoir. But Peter’s writing style is also quite outstanding. His prose is clear and elegant, without being prosaic or dull. There are no flowery depictions, and yet you can imagine the scenery pretty well. Every single sentence captures attention, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself chained to this book from its very first page.
‘Surviving Paradise’ is a charming and deeply entertaining travelogue. Written with a gentle sense of humour, it casts a light on human nature and the power of culture. It is a real eye-opener; something everyone should read.