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The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

3.1 10
by Paul Theroux

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In one of his most exotic and breathtaking journeys, the intrepid traveler Paul Theroux ventures to the South Pacific, exploring fifty-one islands by collapsible kayak. Beginning in New Zealand's rain forests and ultimately coming to shore thousands of miles away in Hawaii, Theroux paddles alone over isolated atolls, through dirty harbors and shark-filled waters,


In one of his most exotic and breathtaking journeys, the intrepid traveler Paul Theroux ventures to the South Pacific, exploring fifty-one islands by collapsible kayak. Beginning in New Zealand's rain forests and ultimately coming to shore thousands of miles away in Hawaii, Theroux paddles alone over isolated atolls, through dirty harbors and shark-filled waters, along treacherous coastlines. This exhilarating tropical epic is full of disarming observations and high adventure.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite the euphoric title, Oceania as Theroux ( Riding the Iron Rooster ) experienced it was only occasionally a carefree paradise. In the Trobriand Islands, celebrated by anthropologists for their supposed sexual freedom, the novelist and travel writer found prostitution and fear of rape. Samoa struck him as noisy, vandalized, with American-style conspicuous consumption. The intrepid Theroux discussed world politics with the king of Tonga, encountered class consciousness in Honolulu, mingled with street gangs in Auckland, and lived in a bamboo hut in Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), where he investigated a cargo cult and rumors of cannibalism. In Australia he braved the Woop Woop (remote outback) to camp with Aborigines. This exhilarating epic ranks with Theroux's best travel books. It is full of disarming observations, high adventure and memorable characters rendered with keen irony. First serial to New York Times Magazine; BOMC featured alternate; QPB alternate. (June)
Library Journal
The best-selling author of My Secret History ( LJ 4/1/89) and Riding the Iron Rooster ( LJ 6/15/88) spent 18 months in a one-man collapsible kayak exploring such exotic Pacific islands as New Zealand, Australia, the Soloman and Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Easter Island, and Hawaii. Never a kind-hearted chronicler of place, he sets out on this voyage in an especially dour mood, leaving behind a failed marriage and expecting to be diagnosed with cancer at any moment. Soon after he escapes the crowded towns of Australia, however, he starts to lose some of his harsh edge and enjoy his travels, which ultimately heal him. A brilliant storyteller with an eye for the absurd, Theroux takes the reader to little-known places where time seems to have stood still and people lead simple lives totally unrelated to 20th-century America. Highly recommended for all libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/92.-- Lisa J. Cochenet, Rhinelander Dist. Lib., Wis.
Kirkus Reviews
The peripatetic author of Riding the Iron Rooster, etc., etc., ventures with a collapsible kayak to the remote and scattered islands of the South Pacific. With a farewell to his marriage, and loneliness at his back, Theroux begins his extraordinary mission in New Zealand's Fiordland ("As long as there is wilderness there is hope"), moves on to Australia (a continent "terrified by its own emptiness"), and then to Melanesia, Polynesia—Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, New Guinea's Trobriands, etc.—and, finally, Hawaii. He paddles the sea, he says, in the wake of myth-makers Melville, Stevenson, Gauguin, Maugham, and the Frenchman Captain Bougainville, who, in 1768, believed he'd found not only the Garden of Eden but Venus when a "barebreasted Tahitian girl" climbed into his ship from a canoe. To keen-eyed Theroux, the Polynesian islands are "pleasant and feckless" but far from paradise. Even Gauguin's Marquesas are "dramatic at a distance" but "close up—muddy and jungly and priest-ridden." Traditional islands are "riddled with magic, superstition, myths, dangers, rivalries and its old routines." Always interesting are Theroux's encounters with archaeologists who have disproved Thor Heyerdahl's popularizing theories about Polynesia. Sifting through human and animal bones, they study a still-mysterious people who carved some 800 stone statues on Easter Island and who boasted navigational skills that sent them migrating during what was Europe's Dark Ages. A sense of being beyond the reach of civilization comes when, in his intrepid kayak, off Easter Island and between the rock-battering surf and the Pacific, Theroux removes his headphones, "hears the immense roar of waves and thescreaming wind," and is terrified. A vast and contemplative book, seeing the "Pacific as a universe, and the islands like stars in all that space." Informative not only for the voyager, but also for those wanting a new perspective on the Western continents of home. (Sorely lacking a map.)

From the Publisher

"Engaging and at times brilliant...he goes places where the rest of us might fear to paddle, often beaching his kayak on a small South Pacific island without the foggiest idea whether those awaiting him will be friendly, indifferent, or anxious to give him a good thwack...well worth reading." USA Today

"A superb blend of sharp-eyed observation and pungently expressed opinion. It's hardly paradise, this lovely part of the world, but Theroux makes it endlessly fascinating." Newsday

"Feisty, eloquent, and vast in scope...a multilayered odyssey." The San Francisco Chronicle

"Perceptive, terribly readable, and wickedly funny...[An] exhilarating book." --Book Review The Los Angeles Times

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.92(d)

Meet the Author

PAUL THEROUX is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. He lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod.

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The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first time reading this author and in the beginning I was disappointed that he was blowing my fantasy of the South Pacific. After a few chapters I was enthralled with his perspective and enjoyed his writing and research style. The truth sometimes is as good as the fantasy, but different.
okinawa More than 1 year ago
He sure doesn't put a good spin on New Zealanders or Australians but one can take some of his opinions with a grain of salt. I was glued to his descriptions and didn't skip any sentences or paragraphs like I usually do when I'm reading travelogues. Mosquito Coast is also a number one for good reads.
Brodk More than 1 year ago
What a Shame! While I enjoyed Theroux's book "Riding the Iron Rooster" immensely, the present work is dyspeptic, cynical, and I suspect a bit off in his curmudgeonly views of just about all nationalities that he encounters. He does make some interesting observations, but too much of the book is about himself and not enough about the places he visits. Too bad, but I think that his older age is telling and I don't think I will read any more of the author's newer works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was not what I was expecting. It was very wordy and boring, so didn't even finish it. I guess I was expecting a more Robinson Crusoe type book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why Cant It Be Freeeeeeee !
Guest More than 1 year ago
It takes time to appreciate Theroux's humour but he does have interesting insite towards the South Pacific culture. A bit of a snob, he is a unrelenting critic. I found the novel compelling but dark and moody much like his feelings towards Easter Island. He wanders in the end and the conclusion is much like his travels-unpredicatble and confusing. Don't bother reading his first works-arogant sexual conquests in Africa, but his jaunt across China is amusing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't wait to receive this book and get started reading. As early as the first chapter, I was already disappointed. Mr. Theroux has a very negative point of view of so many people he meets, and of entire countries. I have read reviews of his other books, and apparently some other readers agree with me. I am lucky enough to have traveled extensively throughout Australia, Fiji, and French Polynesia, and I could not relate to any of his pretentious opinions of these places. Thankfully, I did not order any of his other books.