The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book back in time: ‘South Pacific’ by James Michener

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 26•15

MichenerPacificThere are so many books out there, and seemingly never enough time to get to them all, we here at WoWasis tell ourselves. Decades into your life, you muse, you realize you never got around to some of the classics. We don’t know how many people are reading James Michener’s classic Tales of the South Pacific (1947) these days, but it’s never gone out of print. It was the writer’s first work of fiction, this compilation of nineteen short stories, and they all relate stories that take place in the Pacific theatre of the Second World War.

Reading it today, it’s easy to see why it won a Pulitzer Prize and spawned a movie. The characters, several of whom appear in different stories, are memorable, and the author’s descriptive chops are in full force. The story “Our Heroine” was the basis for the film, and a poignant reminder of the racism that was so common in the allied forces and ancillary organizations of the era. But not all of the tales that deal with the issue of skin color are resolved so nicely. In ‘Fo’ Dollah’,’ the male protagonist falls in love with a local beauty, but ultimately career issues and the fact that he has a girl back home throw a wrench in the works. By the end of the story, the reader is left with his or her own suppositions as to whether the man later marries his girlfriend at home, if it’s a happy relationship if so, or if he rues not marrying the native woman for the rest of his life. By the end of this book’s 350-plus pages, we do have an answer.

AsiaPromoBannerOur favorite part of the book told of a massive booze-run carried on by air. ‘Wine for the Mess at Segi,’ is full of the shenanigans inherent in the life of young military people living on the edge and attempting to defy regulations, cognizant of the fact that their lives could be snuffed out in an instant.

Particularly in its dealings with intercultural and interracial romance, it’s a progenitor to the Bangkok Fiction school of writing, though less lethal, on a non-military level, by comparison. For readers who have a large amount of Asian-based fiction under their belts, this is a wonderful book to take in, written in tougher, but perhaps more innocent times. It’s a classic of exotic fiction, which no doubt inspired innumerable young men to taste Asia and the Pacific for themselves. Aside from the very real element of the Pacific War, the individual stories in this book continue to play themselves out today, as visitors to Asia-Pacific countries continue to contend with new truths that cause them to question belief systems rooted in western cultures. Michener has nailed a lot of that in South Pacific, and more than fifty years after it was first published, it remains a compelling read. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

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