Transit of Venus: Travels in the Pacific

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From Marco Polo, Magellan, and Captain Cook to James Michener and Rodgers and Hammerstein, the South Pacific has exercised a profound influence on the Western imagination. It conjures dreams of Marco Polo's illusory kingdoms, the Noble Savage as imagined by the West, the guilt-free sex and gin-clear lagoons of Polynesia, the perfection of idleness on desert islands, Mutiny on the Bounty and the contention between Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. Since Captain Cook first traveled to Tahiti to observe the ...
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Overview

From Marco Polo, Magellan, and Captain Cook to James Michener and Rodgers and Hammerstein, the South Pacific has exercised a profound influence on the Western imagination. It conjures dreams of Marco Polo's illusory kingdoms, the Noble Savage as imagined by the West, the guilt-free sex and gin-clear lagoons of Polynesia, the perfection of idleness on desert islands, Mutiny on the Bounty and the contention between Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian. Since Captain Cook first traveled to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, fabulae about the South Seas have enabled the Western mind to imagine itself vis-a-vis the Other. Written with passion, biting wit, and lyrical sadness, Transit of Venus is a luminous elegy for a fragile, beautiful, corrupted "paradise." Julian Evans's journey begins with a modern myth, a photograph of a Last Judgment sky glowering on the horizon and spears of light streaking down into the ocean: reentry vehicles from a Peacekeeper missile. It was the source of this man-made vision that Evans decided he had to see. But the journey became a wanderer's tale: Delayed on his way to the Peacekeeper's target (a place that has probably contributed more to the arms race than anywhere else on Earth) by stories of both white men and islanders, he found himself tracing the reality of the Pacific dream. For European interlopers - planters, speculators, and fugitives - it is a place where they lose themselves in schemes and drink-fever. For the islanders - from New Caledonia and Vanuatu to Fiji, Western Samoa, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands - gifts of money, military aspirations, and crackpot colonialism have had their fatal impact on ancient ways. Few places illustrate more powerfully the inexorable outcome of "civilization."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The ``noble savages'' of the islands of the South Pacific now have money and alcohol, military bases, atomic explosions and a good deal of Christianity. The British on Fiji, the French on New Caledonia and the Americans on the Marshalls have all remade these island paradises in their own images, according to Evans. In Suva, the Fiji capital, the author, a British journalist, walks down Victoria Parade past Albert Park, in a city that ``reeks of the London suburbs.'' (``What do you think we're developing the South Pacific for? So everyone can go shopping,'' a friend tells him.) In New Caledonia, the French are so insistently French that for a long time their navy was the only one in the world to use navigational charts based on the Paris meridian rather than the international standard, the Greenwich meridian. The Americans on the Marshalls Islands have made Kwajalein into a ``real nice . . . suburban trailer-park . . . a great place to bring up the kids,'' Traveling on a slow boat through the islands, Evans documents in sorrowful detail, interspersed with excellent historical background, the loss of innocence. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Enticed by photographs, memories of Australia, and a desire to search for solitude, Evans sets out to experience the islands of the South Pacific. Leaving Sidney by freighter, he journeys by whatever means available through New Caledonia, Figi, Western Samoa, and a variety of islands in the region. With a lack of time restraint and a personal fluidity of choice, he saunters from island to island and meets a colorful array of informative local acquaintances. Evans describes his adventures in this tropical vastness with candidness and clarity. His journey concludes with a visit to the U.S. Army Base in Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, the site of the Missile Test Range. An obvious strength of the book is the brief but excellent history of the islands and the impact of various cultures upon it. This is a good introduction to the area and the people, places, and politics that make it unique. For travel collections.-- Jo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ontario
Alice Joyce
When Evans set out to explore the South Seas, it was with an image of paradise intruded upon by U.S. Peacekeeper missiles. His travels took him across New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides), and Samoa to the ultimate destination of Bikini in the Marshall Islands, site of intense U.S. nuclear testing activity. By the time he visited Kili, where Bikini inhabitants had been relocated because of the contamination of their atoll, any remaining myths of idyllic scenery, innocent sexual bliss, or rapturous days of idle tranquility had long since been shattered. What emerges from the author's vivid recounting of contemporary life in the Pacific is richly textured with historical underpinnings. Evans' powers of observation combine with a stunning literacy to provide an often painfully rendered but remarkably coherent view of problems facing indigenous islanders today.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679416371
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/15/1992
  • Pages: 288

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