Friday, February 09, 2018

781 (2018 #4). Return to Paradise

by James Michener,
read by Larry McKeever

Someone requested that my university library purchase access to this e-audiobook, as well as another by Michener (Texas, which I read in the past and which is even longer than this 21+-hour book).  Reviews of the narrator were mixed, and having a number of three-hour drives planned within a short period, I decided to listen to this one.

It can be considered a sequel to Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific (which I have not read).  The book alternates nonfiction essays on various South Pacific islands or countries with short stories set on that particular island (with the exception of nonfiction chapters at the beginning on "The Mighty Ocean" (introduction) and at the end on "Rabaul" (not sure why this merited a separate chapter from the rest of New Guinea, but no separate story) and "What I Learned" (conclusion).  Places covered include "The Atoll" (perhaps generic for many small islands in the area), Polynesia, Fiji, Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, New Zealand, Australia, and New Guinea.

It's important to read both "The Mighty Ocean" and "What I Learned" to put the book in context.  The nonfiction is a good (but rather detailed) travelogue when it comes to physical descriptions and history, but is very dated, particularly when discussing culture and social customs (the book was published in 1951). 

The fictional short stories are full of two-dimensional late-1940s stereotypes, particularly when it comes to the natives of the islands.  Despite the stereotypes, my favorite stories were "Mr. Morgan" (set on the atoll), "Povenaa's Daughter" (set in Polynesia), and "Until They Sail" (set in New Zealand).  The first two had humorous parts, and the latter, while more serious, was better-developed than any other story in the book (although a character's abrupt change of mind at the end is not explained).  The first and last were made into movies.

I really disliked the last two stories, "The Jungle" (set in Australia,), and "The Fossickers" (set in New Guinea).  "The Jungle" in particular was an ugly story with an unsatisfying end.

As for the narrator, actor Larry McKeever, I found him to be - okay.  I think he read the book a little too slowly, and at times that (along with the content) made me sleepy.  I'm glad I did not recommend that we purchase his nearly-65-hour narration of Texas.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[The e-audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were both borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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