Friday, January 9, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. 2000

On Christmas Eve, we were out seeing a movie (Big Eyes) and I noticed a movie poster for In the Heart of the Sea. I thought, "hey, I have that book in the Bibliotiki, maybe now is a good time to read it." I had bought this book years ago because I had read it was a true story that Melville based Moby Dick on. I do love non-fiction books based on adventure so this seemed right up my alley.

I should say my 2 top true adventure books are the Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and Men Against the Sea by Nordoff and Hall. Men Against the Sea is a gripping story about how Captain Bligh got forced off his ship and into a boat with others left to die. They didn't die and their tale of navigation and survival is a page turner. So I did have high expectations for In the Heart of the Sea going into it.

Philbrick did a great job with the research of this book. 40 pages of this book are notes and bibliography. It mainly weaves the two books that survivors wrote as the narrative, which I will be interested to see how the movie handles that.

It starts off with a pretty amazing opening chapter, survivors of the Essex are found by another ship and this is what they saw:
First they saw bones-human bones-littering the thwarts and floorboards, as if the whaleboat where the seagoing lair of a ferocious man-eating beast. Then they saw the two men. They were curled up in opposite ends of the boat, their skin covered with sores, their eyes bulging from the hollows of their skulls, their beards caked with salt and blood. They were sucking the marrow from the bones of their dead shipmates.

Let me say, if the movie doesn't open with that scene, it is a missed opportunity.

With that as the preface, you pretty much know what your in for. But it isn't all horror and gore, you get a lot of information about Nantucket and the whaling industry. It was just such a different time then our own.

The story in a nutshell is an inexperienced crew leave Nantucket to catch some whales, a whale then attacks their ship. The crew then escapes into 3 smaller whaleboats that are in various state of disrepair. They should head for Tahiti which is not that far but are afraid of cannibals (cue the foreshadowing) and decide to take the longest, most desolate route possible to South America.

Overall, it is a pretty amazing story.

Here is a link to the Nantucket Whaling Museum which has some artifacts from the crew on display. Including a skeleton of a 46 foot sperm whale. I have never been to Nantucket but now I kinda want to go.

And of course a link to the trailer for the new movie. Hopefully I won't sit thru it and go "it didn't happen like that in the book!" to my husband 400 times.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tahiti Holiday by Sydney Gorham Babson

tahitiholiday1Tahiti Holiday by Sydney Gorham Babson. 1943

I picked this up at the wonderful Powell's City of Books in Portland a few years ago on my first trip to Portland. I recall being overwhelmed by the breathe of titles they had in the Polynesian literature section. I guess my judgement must of been clouded that I choose this book. I know I also bought a book about headhunting as well, hopefully that title will prove a little more interesting.

My main problem with this book is, only about 1/3rd of it is about Tahiti. The rest of the book is about Bali and then a random collection of the author poems.

Poems.

Poems, despite having a best friend who is a poetess I have never been very keen on poetry. I blame too many Voodoo donuts on this choice.

It was signed so maybe that swayed my purchasing decision as well.

tahitiholiday2

The part of the book that does deal with Tahiti was fine, if I bit emotionless. The author went to Tahiti in 1938, the first part is written a diary style format so we get a day by day account. He leaves from Pago Pago then to Fiji. Gets stuck in Fiji for awhile waiting for his next boat. Then goes to Tonga which he enjoyed more then Fiji. Next up is Samoa and then he finally makes it to Tahiti.

Now the book goes from diary format to just travelogue. He seems to have your usual visit to Tahiti in the 1930's, goes to Quinns, gets the hots for a local girl, swims in Loti's pool, briefly meets Zane Grey but misses meeting James Norman Hall.

He does make it to Moorea but the excitement of Papeete calls him back to Tahiti. He did get to meeting Charles Nordhoff but had nothing to say about it except they shared a lemonade.

The few decorations by Dorothy Goodwin Blodgett are nice.

tahitiholiday4

Then it goes into his poetry inspired by his trip. He has a little more emotion over the local lady he had the hots for but that was about it.

Then the book goes into Bali and Java where there is much written about topless ladies. I did enjoy the illustration of the man with a huge leaf on his back as a rain coat.

tahitiholiday3

And then we get about 50 pages of poetry that has nothing to do with Polynesia, Bali or Java.

Can't say this is my favorite idem in the Bibliotiki. Since space is getting tight, it might be going away.

I did look up the author and did find some interesting tidbits. Copied from this site. 

Sydney Gorham Babson born 1882 at Brooklyn, NY; died 11 Jan 1975 at Hood River, OR at age 92.
He was graduated After graduating from Princeton in 1902 he worked for a time in New York City with Sinclair & Babson, wholesalers of Portland Cement, and then with the Vulcanite Portland Cement Company. Sydney and his brother Rea then moved to Oregon where they cleared the forest in the newly-settled Upper Hood River Valley. They planted one of the first commercial apple and pear orchards in the area. Sydney devoted his life with single-minded purpose to these orchards for over 60 years. In 1960 he was named "Orchardist of the Year."
 Sydney was also a writer. Among the books he authored were Tahiti HolidayGreen Wave of Mexico, and Complete Poems. His poem Verdun was published in the New York Times of 29 March 1917.

Well, next time I have an apple in Portland I will think of him.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman




Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman. 2014

http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/s/savage-harvest/9780062116154_custom-2585a78349410c599b7c433ac6550e38062caa38-s6-c30.jpgA  friend sent me a text recently that she was listening to NPR and was grossed out by an author talking about cannibals in his new book. Once I figured out what she was talking about and that the region included New Guinea, I hunted down the book. I knew the name Rockefeller but only in reference to "very rich" and a book about the South Pacific that I already owned. I went home to see if "Man on his Island" was written by Michael Rockefeller but it was written by James Rockefeller, a relative of Michael's. I knew really nothing about Michael Rockefeller and am not that interested in New Guinea but what the hell, I'll read it.

It pretty much starts off with a graphic description of what would of happened if he indeed was killed and ate by the Asmat people. Let me say that again, a VERY graphic description. I wasn't quite prepared for that. But I pressed on and ripped thru this book pretty fast. I am a sucker for a true history mystery.

I did enjoy this book on many levels. I liked hearing about the research the author did on Michael and the time period. I think he did a good job setting the stage for the extenuating circumstances that were going on. I liked reading about the author and his interest in extreme cultures and how he actually immersed himself by learning the language and living with an Asmat family.

Here is a 3 minute video of an interview with the author and on location footage.

I would of liked to of gotten more of a sense of who Michael was as person. We knew he had graduated college recently and had two trips to the region to collect art for his father's new Primitive Art Museum. One problem is, this was 53 years ago and any remaining family or friends of Michael are not going to want to talk to an author who is once again digging up the headhunting story. It seems that the family believes the official story that he drowned.  Do they really need to believe the possible truth that some primitive men ate him? How horrible to think that happened to a loved one? Overall, a worthy read. Just a bizarre mixture of culture clashing, politics, art and lies.

To try get a little more of Michael as a person, I interlibrary loaned: Asmat by Michael C Rockefeller.


http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/52/d4/4252124128a02f635be86010.L.jpg
http://www.robertgardner.net/staging/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/michael-rockefeller.jpgAsmat contains his original photos and journal entries. I skimmed the book and he does seem to have a sense of humor.

















I also interlibrary loaned Michael Rockefeller: New Guina Photographs, 1961 by Kevin Bubriski. These photos are from his first trip where he photographed the Dani tribe.










If you are in New York, you can visit the Michael C. Rockefeller wing at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Planter's Punch by Margaret Curtis

Planter's Punch by Margaret Curtis. 1962  
Planter's punch-cover
I fear I will not be able to do justice to this fascinating woman's biography. I had never heard of Margaret Curtis, but I was at the Friend's of The Library Book Sale last year and the flowers on the spine of this book caught my eye. I had hoped the title was a reference to the tiki drink that is one of my favorites.  When I read the flyleaf and it mentioned "Tahiti" and "Nordhoff and Hall" I knew I was in.

I fear I might overuse the phrase "truth is stranger then fiction" on the Bibliotiki but gosh darn it, it IS! Pretty much the entire time of reading the account of this womans' life I was bowled over from how interesting and varied it was.

Any short period of her life would be a lifetime for others: "World famous opera singer." "Lived and ran a coconut plantation on Tahiti." "Spent time in an Italian jail" "Had a harrowing escape from Europe during WWII."

I mean COME ON!?!?! Where people just more interesting in the old days?



Margaret Curtis

Plus look at her! Is that the face of someone who stole her husband away from the best Tahitian dancer on the island named Tetua. Apparently it is.

I finished this book about 2 months ago and have been trying to do some research on Margaret to add to my review and have just been coming up short.  I did find a clipping from December 28, 1913 New York Time's that mentioned she sang. Her stage name was Marguerite Valdi.

Sadly, since I waited so long to write this up I realized I have forgotten many wonderful things that happened in this book. As I flip thru it now, it takes me back to when I was reading it and how unbelievable I thought it was.

Here is just a brief outline of her life: She was born in Birmingham, England. Her father was a newspaper writer but due to his poor health they had to move to Australia. There it was discovered she could sing and studied with Nellie Melba, a famous Australian Soprano. Thru the magic of Google, I found out that Nellie is a character on Downton Abbey so there is a tidbit for you fans. Ok back to Margaret. She then went to study music in Paris, got famous, traveled the world, married a rich older  man, got tossed in an Italian jail, husband then died, bought a ticket to a ship traveling overseas, met and married husband #2 who owned a plantation on Tahiti, volunteered to help during WWII, had to quickly escape Europe, husband #2 accidentally dies, moves to San Francisco where she threw elaborate Tahitian themed parties. Phew. That is just the barest of outlines. You need to read the book if you want to fill in the details.

There are many copies of the book available online and many of them signed. My copy came with this card from the publisher so I am assuming mine was a review copy. Sadly, I can't even find Margaret's  birth or death date. If anyone has any info about Margaret, please email me. I am going to keep looking.

In closing, you can buy this book online for around $13 and I guarantee it will be a exciting, fun read. Or maybe you will luck out and find it at your library book sale.
planters1

Sunday, January 26, 2014

This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila 2013.

I came across this book at work (public library) the other week. Of course I stopped when I saw the hula girl on the cover but then I knew I wanted to read it when I saw the author's last name was Hawaiian. While I love my books on the historical take of the South Pacific, I do want learn about how things really are today. Also, I like the Bibliotiki to have a focus on women writer's so this seemed perfect.

It is a collection of short stories that all take places on various islands in Hawaii. If you were looking for heart warming travel stories about an idyllic place, just stop right there and back away from this book. Also, if you aren't good with understanding pidgin this might make it a difficult book at times.

These are fictional stories about contemporary, current Hawaii. It is not all sensational Dog the Bounty Hunter type characters or drama but it can be pretty heavy, kinda of like how Hawaii actually is if you scratch the surface.

I imagine that many of these very vivid characters come from actual people in the author's life. There were only a few stories that I didn't like the characters or the story much. One being Road to Hana, where a Hawaiian native has move back home and is with her Haole boyfriend. The story had promise but then just kinda of ended.

One of the best stories I thought was Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game. Very dark humor in it and a great portrayal of an extended family. The first story in the collection, This is Paradise, really sets the tone for the book. A story of a young tourist coming to Hawaii for vacation and her interaction with the locals.

While the book is based in Hawaii, it is really about those universal themes of love, death and family.

It isn't very long, 238 pages. None of the stories are connected so it's great if you just want to pick up and read one story at a time. I believe this is her first book/collection, I really hope she will have more coming out in the near future.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Revolt of Mamie Stover and Hotel Mamie Stover by William Bradford Huie

Revolt of Mamie Stover  by William Bradford Huie 1951

Hotel Mamie Stover by William Bradford Huie 1963

Revolt of Mamie Stover
My husband came home from a yard sale one day with a bunch of old paperbacks for me which included the Revolt of Mamie Stover. At first glance I just thought it was some pulpy novel since by looking at the cover nothing would suggest that this is set in Hawaii. The cover just had some busty blond looking really pissed off, I assumed since she had to "service" 51,840 soldiers.

The fictional author, Madison, meets Mamie on board a freight to Honolulu. He finds out she is from a small southern town and went to be an actress in Hollywood but that didn't go so well for her. She got in trouble with a gangster who roughed her up and sent her packing to a whorehouse in Hawaii. Madison is sympathetic and tries to give her money to start a different kind of life but she is determined to be the best damn whore in the south pacific. It is nice to have a goal.

Madison is successful writer who lives in an exclusive part of Oahu and seems intrigued and disgusted by the whole prospect.

They keep in touch and she uses him to help squirrel her money away since she isn't allowed to open a bank account.

Once World War II hits she can really make her mark. She breaks all the 13 rules that the Hawaii whores are suppose to abide by. She also builds a "bullring."This is some multi-roomed structure where she can service as any men as she can. She makes her millions, invests in property, takes over the whore house and retires from the business. A true American success story.

Despite the book being about a whore, there is hardly any sex in it and nothing remotely graphic. I would think folks in 1951 might of been bummed by it. Here they think they are getting a raunchy sex book but instead get a meditation on the class system. It is a strange book that is actually more a commentary about social status in America and the minorities rising in the ranks. When I finished the booked I googled the author to try and get some insight and found out he was from the south and was very involved in the civil right movement in the south. Then the book made a little more sense.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube you can now watch the 1956 movie version with Jane Russell here. Though as you can imagine it is a bit cleaned up and there is no bullpen. It does appear to be filmed in Hawaii so worth watching for that alone.

The end of the book left me hanging and with a little googling I saw there is a sequel from 1963 called Hotel Mamie Stover, I ordered a used one off of Amazon and with promises of "A veritable Sexual Disneyland" pull quote from the San Francisco Chronicle on the cover I thought surely this has to be saucier.

What I received instead was kinda of a slog to get thru. And it hardly had any Mamie in it. It picked up a
Hotel Mamie Stover
few years after the first book. Mamie and 2 business partners are now running a sex resort on Maui. First you go to a Luau that Mamie puts on in Waikiki then you submit your application to the resort. They do no advertising, just word of mouth. But OH NO, James Madison is back and is suppose to write a story about the luau and resort for a Hawaii vacation magazine that will blow the lid right off!! Sound exciting? It's not. Really.

The story then turns to be centered around a late 20's virgin from the midwest who wants to loose her virginity at the resort. The other stories are about couples who go to the resort. And like in the last book there is no sex, nothing erotic just lots of talk about "like sex." Which is what you have when you are not in love.

I feel bad for the readers in the early 50's and 60's who picked up these books thinking they where going to get a titillating beach read. They must of wanted their 60 cents back.

I can lukewarmly recommend the Revolt of Mamie Stover, it was interesting in a historical way and Mamie was a spitfire of a character. I can't recommend Hotel Mamie Stover unless you have insomnia and need some help in that department.

Hotel Mamie Stover

Revolt of Mamie Stover


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz

Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz, 2007.

I came across this title in a University of Hawai'i Press catalog and was interested since it is a contemporary novel by an Tahitian author. I had read the Breadfruit trilogy years ago which is also by female Tahitian author but these books couldn't be more different.

Island is a doomed loved story that is highly critical of the French government and their nuclear testing. If you are looking for an armchair travel book about French Polynesia with their happy, nice locals and fun adventures, this is not for you.

In the Bibliotiki I don't just want to read 1930's travel journals by white men who go to Tahiti and fall in love with the beautiful local ladies. I want the full picture and sometimes that means the cold, hard reality of modern Polynesia and the history that got them there.

The book is translated from Tahitian and written in a more lyrical style that seems true to the Tahitian way of storytelling. It covers a few generations of a family and their frustrations, some from certain family members being of Tahitian-European decent and how that affects their lives. The book contains a story about a Tahitian-European man falling in love with a French woman on his island, who is there working for the government to build the first nuclear facility in French Polynesian. Talk about doomed love.

The book is translated by Jean Anderson and I think is the the only translated work by this author. From what I can gather from google translated websites from French, she seems to be a very passionate person about her culture in the modern world. I think this novel has many biographical elements to it, which makes it even more interesting.

I highly recommend this novel for those wanting a different view of the magic of Polynesia. If anyone has any suggestions of other contemporary others to check out, please feel free to leave a comment.