Tag Archives: Solomon Islands

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history. 

Review 

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

‘THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA: PADDLING THE PACIFIC’ BY PAUL THEROUX

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Summary

What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.

Review

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.

‘SOLOMONI – TIMES AND TALES FROM SOLOMON ISLANDS’ BY ROGER WEBBER

‘Solomoni: Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’ is Roger Webber’s memoir that focuses on his sojourn in the Pacific country, where he worked as a doctor for over 10 years.

SOLOMONI

Summary

Having spent his childhood in exotic Zanzibar, Roger knows exactly that helping people in developing nations is his true calling in life. So after graduating from medical school, he leaves England and together with his young family travels to Solomon Islands.

The Melanesian country proves to be a truly extraordinary place. Visiting even the smallest of villages, Roger provides medical assistance to those in need. He braves taboo mountains and flooded rivers to deliver babies, treat leprosy, and care for mentally ill Islanders. At the same time, he immerses himself in everything the archipelago has to offer: unspoiled beauty, distinctive cultures with age-old customs and traditions, rich history that still lingers in the air. These days of untroubled serenity come to an end when Roger experiences his own tragedy – the sudden death of his wife, Bridget.

Review

Hardly ever are travel memoirs considered ‘serious’ literature. They are meant to be humorous, light-hearted, and easy to enjoy. Roger Webber’s book is nothing like that. It is not amusing. It won’t make you laugh. It may, however, make you cry. Yes, it will definitely stir your emotions. And it will make you think. But most of all, it will show you the Solomon archipelago like you haven’t seen it before.

The abundance of information regarding not only Solomon Islands but also the region as a whole is truly astonishing. On over 290 pages, the author demonstrates his extensive inside knowledge of the Melanesian country and its surrounding areas. And he doesn’t limit himself to well-known facts that the majority of people, especially those interested in Pasifika, are probably already familiar with. He takes one step further and unravels the hidden secrets, letting readers explore an entirely new world. He expounds on the islands’ history, describes the settlement patterns, and delineates the cultural and linguistic links between different Pacific and Asian races. His findings and observations could not be any more fascinating. Every chapter makes you understand this particular part of the Blue Continent slightly better. You read and you learn. You read and you discover. You read and you feel the urge to dig deeper. This is exactly the effect a good piece of travel writing should have on you, don’t you agree?

Now, as I have already mentioned, the book is not only very informative but also full of emotions. Somewhere in between those revealing insights regarding the Pacific Islands, the author’s personal story can be found. It is not overly prominent and yet it tugs at your heartstrings. The chapter dedicated to the tragic air crash that took away Roger’s beloved wife Bridget and left him bringing up their miracle daughters – two of only three survivors – is quite painful to get through. Even though it is written in a rather matter-of-fact manner, you can’t help but be deeply moved.

Speaking of Mr Webber’s style, I must honestly say it is not something that deserves the highest praise. Don’t get me wrong, the memoir is decently written, but it certainly won’t leave you in awe. To put it simply, you’ll find more value in the book’s substance than its style.

All things considered, ‘Solomoni’ is a great read. It does not disappoint. Unique photographs beautifully illustrate the author’s words, showing you the real Solomon Islands.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

‘MICHAEL, BROTHER OF JERRY’ BY JACK LONDON

‘Michael, Brother of Jerry’ is a novel written by Jack London. It is a sequel to one of his earlier books called ‘Jerry of the Islands’.

MICHAEL BROTHER OF JERRY

Summary

Michael, an Irish terrier bred in the Solomon Islands, serves as a nigger-chaser on a ship used for recruiting native labour. When his owner, Captain Kellar, accidentally forgets him on the beach, he befriends Dag Daughtry, a steward from another schooner. Along with his new master, Michael starts his journey around the world.

Michael’s life seems perfectly happy until Daughtry is diagnosed with leprosy and sent to the pest house. The dog falls into the hands of Harry Del Mar and after some time is given to Harris Collins, a well-known animal trainer.

Review

It would be wise to read this book in conjunction with London’s novel, ‘Jerry of the Islands’, as these two stories are inseparably linked. While Jerry’s tale can easily be read as a stand-alone volume, Michael’s adventures will leave you completely baffled if you don’t reach for the other title first. However, it gets even worse here, if you pore over Jerry’s story, you will know exactly what happens to Michael at the end of his book. Complicated? Just a little bit.

Now, even though the two novels are connected in some ways, they could not be more different. ‘Jerry of the Islands’ is a wonderful description of the Solomon Islands, their people, and culture. True, its content is terribly racist, but it is still a brilliantly written, thoroughly engaging narrative. When it comes to ‘Michel, Brother of Jerry’, it’s the other way round. Unfortunately. This time Jack London failed to create a tale that readers could be fully drawn into. The book is like a roller-coaster ride: when the story ‘goes up’, you wait in excitement, not knowing what will happen next. But then the story suddenly ‘goes down’… And nothing happens. Yes, this novel is quite mundane in some parts. There are a lot of flowery descriptions – extremely vivid, I admit, – but not necessarily needed.

The most interesting – and disturbing, for that matter – are, without a doubt, the final chapters. London shifts his focus to the gruesome world of animal entertainment, unraveling all the dark secrets we aren’t fully aware of. He depicts unimaginable cruelty and sadistic actions, which – even if slightly exaggerated – are a real eye-opener. This makes the book a thought-provoking read, well worth pondering on.

And Pasifika… Where is it? Well, it’s nowhere to be found. Apart from a few mentions, the author doesn’t give the islands much attention. Sadly. Maybe this is why I find ‘Jerry of the Islands’ more engaging. Yes, this certainly might be the reason.

So, would I recommend this novel? For animal lovers – yes. For literature enthusiasts – absolutely. For those interested in the Blue Continent – not so much. The truth is, it may not be the best book, but it is still a valuable read. It’s quite educational and it definitely arouse emotions. Give it a try. It may suit your taste.

‘JERRY OF THE ISLANDS’ BY JACK LONDON

‘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 OF THE ISLANDS

Summary

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.

Review

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.