Return to Home Page

November 26, 2009

Book review: Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island

In Surviving Paradise, author Peter Rudiak-Gould recounts his year as a volunteer English teacher for WorldTeach on the South Pacific island of Ujae. Part of the Ujae Atoll in the Marshall Islands and measuring only one third of a square mile in area, Peter circumnavigated his new island home before lunch on his first day.

Fresh out of college and hoping to find a remote paradise, to be a big fish in a small lagoon (actually, not that small, being 72 square miles), it’s not your typical coming-of-age story. He very quickly realized that paradise is an ideal that doesn’t always match reality. While still idyllically beautiful and warm, there were also barking dogs, unruly children, loud music, bland food, and bugs galore. This latter point can best be summarized through a local song;

“Bunniin bunun naam, bunniin bunun naam,
Iban kiki, bwe eju naam ekkan niin”

Translated, this means;

“There are zillions of mosquitoes tonight,
there are zillions of mosquitoes tonight,
I can’t sleep, because there are ludicrous numbers
of mosquitoes and their teeth are sharp.”

Throughout the book we learn along with Peter as he unravels more of this unique language which has 11 words for coconut, 35 words for wind, and where there are both words that have very specific meanings such as dentak (striking needlefish with a long piece of wood as they float on the surface of the water on moonlit nights), as well as words with multiple meanings like yokwe eok, which is used for “hello”, “goodbye”, “I love you”, and “I’m sorry for you.”

He comes face-to-face with his own Western identity as he struggles to understand and accept Marshallese values of kindness, generosity, communalism, conflict avoidance, stoicism, conservatism, strict social roles, idolization of the old, and the marginalization of the young. The overriding rule of the land is to maintain harmony at any cost, which includes suppressing emotions and ignoring the grave importance of suicide and the effects of global warming.

The book is a captivating journey, offering vivid descriptions of life on a small Pacific atoll with insights on how a remote island nation deals with the inevitable influence of the Western world. You can also read Rolf’s interview with Peter Rudiak-Gould as this month’s featured writer.

Posted by | Comments (3) 
Category: Travel Writing


3 Responses to “Book review: Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island

  1. Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. It’s interesting that we often think paradise is far away from our home. Paradise can be found in your backyard, if you take the time to open your eyes to see it.

    “While still idyllically beautiful and warm, there were also barking dogs, unruly children, loud music, bland food, and bugs galore.” — just like home!

  2. Jessica Says:

    I think I just found the elusive Christmas present for my guy. Thank You! PS, the mosquito song is hilarious!

Leave a Reply

Main

Bio

Books

Stories

Essays

Video

Interviews

Events

Writers

Marco

Paris

Vagabonding.net

Contact


Vagabonding Audio Book at Audible.com

Marco Polo Didnt Go There
Rolf's new book!


Vagabonding
   Vagabonding

RECENT COMMENTS

Roger: My family and I recently returned from a three week trip to Europe (Germany,...

Ric Moore: Coming home after 4 months, I was in a bit of a funk. ‘Nothing’...

Peter Korchnak @ Where Is Your Toothbrush?: Agreed with Lynne, well said. The...

M.Jagger: Rod, Blimey….It was a blast partying with you at the local...

Ava Collopy: I’m currently working on a new book and website project to represent...

Caroline Macomber: I’m beginning to feel that it doesn’t end. But that I...

Stephen: Does it end, though? I’ve gone through several cycles of this over the...

Margie: I will never be a tour guide, but the prospective you have shown here will help...

Lynne Nieman: Well said! Although not a long term traveler like you, I have taken a few...

Dorje: Hi all. I was born in Kathmandu in ’71, my father ran the Rose Mushroom...

SPONSORED BY :



CATEGORIES

TRAVEL LINKS

ARCHIVES

RECENT ENTRIES

Vagabonding Case Study: Mariellen Ward
Vagabonding book club: Chapter 11: Coming home
Maximilian I on the journey of life
Enlightening Self-inflicted Ruin Travel
Thank you, Victoria Falls.
Lost in the crowd when traveling?
Can words hurt as much as sticks and stones?
Vagabonding Field Report: The Penguins of Phillip Island
Long term travel with a family: You have to really want to do this
Alden Jones on going back to the places that obsess you


Subscribe to this blog's feed
Follow @rolfpotts