Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Catching Up

I have read so many books in the last month thanks to being terribly ill. I spent so much time in bed that I got lots of reading opportunities. Instead of doing separate entries for each book, I'm going to do a quick rundown.

Otherwise Normal People - It's about the world of competitive rose growers, and it's fascinating. It's sort of Like Susan Orleans' Orchid Thief, but without the crazy guy. My only complaint is that it didn't have pictures of the roses. I ended up going to the Jackson & Perkins website to look up some of the varieties.

Mutiny on the Bounty - I've always had a fascination for tales from the high seas. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a beach town and loved sailing. Or maybe I was a seafarer in a former life. This book is a fictionalized account of the very real mutiny on the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian against Captain Blye. And while Blye comes across as the bad guy in the book, Christian is no peach either. He sets the captain and 17 crew men adrift in an open boat with barely any food or water in the middle of the South Pacific. Amazingly, Blye and company survive and make it back to England, where they report the mutiny and send the Royal Navy after the mutineers. The Navy never gets it's hands on the mutineers, but they do round up several members of the crew who were left on the Bounty with Christian, who then put them ashore on Tahiti. The story of those crew members' return to England is worth reading all by itself.

Pitcairn Island - This is the third of the Bounty trilogy. It's about what happened to the mutineers after they set Blye adrift and abandoned other crew members on Tahiti. Fletcher Christian and 8 English sailors basically kidnapped 6 Tahitian men and 12 Tahitian women and searched through the South Pacific for an island on which to settle. They eventually found Pitcairn, where they lived for 20 years without being discovered.

Unfortunately, their life was not idyllic. There was rape and murder and alcoholism. the Tahitian men, tired of being treated like slaves and tired of having their women stolen, plotted to kill all the English men. They managed to kill a few before the English figured out what was going on and returned the favor. By the time the bloodshed was over Fletcher Christian was dead, and only four English sailors were left alive, along with several of the women. The alcoholism among the remaining men got so bad that the women built their own encampment and lived there with all the children. By the time an American sailing ship landed at the island, 20 years later, only one man was left, acting as father to all of the children who had been born.

The book fascinated me. As much as a recluse as I tend to be, I can't imagine settling on an island and then deliberately burning the only ship that could get them to the world beyond. But that's what they did, forcing themselves into complete isolation for decades.

Lost Paradise - This book pretty much ended any desire I had to visit Pitcairn Island. It's by a New Zealand journalist and chronicles the sex abuse trials on Pitcairn five years ago. It turns out that for generations, Pitcairn men had been raping girls as young as 9 and 10. Often, these girls were nieces or cousins on the men. There wasn't a family on the island that not involved in some way. The trials were a legal challenge - magistrates and attorneys had to be imported from England and New Zealand and housed on the island, among the accused and victims. Six reporters were allowed to attend, and they also had to live on the island amidst a very hostile population that was convinced the outside world was trying to paint them all in a bad light. Many of the girls and women who initially reported the rapes ended up not pressing charges or refusing to testify. The girls and women who did ended up isolated from their families and the island itself.

The book is a fascinating account about how a closed society can go so badly wrong. I'd love to get my hands on an account of the island's history during the 200 years between its discovery by the outside world and the trial. Even though I no longer have any desire to visit the island, it still fascinates me.


Just Mom said...

Oh my - that last book must have been a heartbreaking read. How sad that the girls had no hope of escape because they were trapped on that island.

Melanie said...

I hope you're feeling better! My dad recently finished reading "Mutiny on the Bounty," and he says I have to read it too. It certainly sounds interesting!