There’s been a great decline in book reviewing in daily and Sunday newspapers. (The Christian Science Monitor is one of the few exceptions, and my consistent source for great book recommendations.) There are a lot of great books blogs, but I figured I would do a regular feature of books I’ve taken out of the library (or bought at a library book sale).
I started becoming a little bit obsessed with the Mutiny on the Bounty a few months back, and it was fortuitous that I have a husband who knows a lot about the South Pacific in general and the Mutiny in particular. It’s been one of the few cases where he and I have read the same books nearly simultaneously (or, more appropriately, where I start reading the book on the shelf in the bathroom and consistently move HIS bookmark to where MY bookmark should be, once again proving that he is the most patient man on the planet).
I found a beat-up paperback copy of the Nordhoff & Hall Mutiny on the Bounty on the free shelf at the library and I haven’t finished it, but I keep it in the car as a flood book. I find Lieutenant Bligh to be a surprisingly compelling individual.
Descendants of the mutineers (including Fletcher Christian) continue to live on Pitcairn Island, and the island, which is extremely remote, continues to fascinate many people worldwide. The writer Dea Birkett traveled to Pitcairn Island and wrote an absorbing memoir of her time there, Serpent in Paradise. She was welcomed into residents’ homes (without their knowing she was a writer who intended to publish a book about her experiences) and lived there for at least a year. You really get the sense of Pitcairn as a place where people are utterly dependent on the grace of God and on each other in order to survive on a daily basis. At first, people hoarding food in refrigerators and on shelves seems like collective insanity — until you realize that they have no idea when the next ship will come to their island, and what provisions the ship’s crew will be willing to barter or sell to the islanders.
Living on a 1.7-square-mile island with a population between 50-200 people also means that everyone knows your business. In some ways, living on the island is extremely remote — all you can see is the Pacific Ocean stretching in every direction — but in other ways, it’s extremely confining. Everyone is related to everyone else, and there are no real secrets that can be kept for any length of time.
Some of these secrets are the basis for the book Lost Paradise by Kathy Marks, which we were able to take out from a Western Massachusetts library. Marks was one of six journalists who reported on child sexual abuse trials on Pitcairn Island. It appears that many men on the island considered girls fair game once they turned twelve.
So, many of the people you met in Birkett’s book are now on trial or in some way complicit in Marks’ book. And it raises all sorts of questions: Do the islanders have a legitimate cultural claim to this practice? Can the island survive if most of the men need to serve jail terms after conviction? Is it acceptable to condone certain behaviors because you are dependent on other residents of the island for your very survival? Can you live a good Christian (in this case, Seventh Day Adventist) life in an essentially wild place?
I recommend both Serpent in Paradise and Lost Paradise, but I think the latter is a better-written book.
I feel I should also recommend a children’s book, but it’s a little tough after just discussing child rape. My son loves Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor by Mervyn Peake, which we picked up at a library book sale. The illustrations are delightful and the plot is weird, but it does involve pirates and the weird inhabitants of an island. If you know a boy who loves pirates and drawings of really bizarre fish, he will not be disappointed by this book.