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Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  3,578 ratings  ·  191 reviews
"Possibly his best travel book...an observant and frequently hilarious account of a trip that took him to 51 Pacific Islands."
TIME
Renowned travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has been many places in his life and tried almost everything. But this trip in and around the lands of the Pacific may be his boldest, most fascinating yet. From New Zealand's rain forests, to cro
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Paperback, 528 pages
Published October 19th 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 1992)
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Community Reviews

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Pattie
May 28, 2012 Pattie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who love travel writing
I would NEVER want to travel with (or spend any time with) Paul Theroux, but damn, can he conjure up a sense of place. Cranky, complaining and mean-spirited, but vastly entertaining.
Mukikamu
Here I am, stepping into something huge again. Paul Theroux is one of the most popular travel writers of our times and I am fully aware that it will take me years to eat myself through his literature. He has several essential travel volumes to choose from and hereby I officially promise to report on The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express A.S.A.P..

The volume I read this time was The Happy Isles of Oceania and to be perfectly honest, after the poetic and respectful admiration towa
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Oceana2602
Jul 02, 2008 Oceana2602 rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are capable of loving Theroux
Ah, Theroux! How much do I love Theroux?

This is one of my favourite books by him, not only because of where he is traveling. I know, many readers don't like Theroux because he is so seemingly negative. I've heard people ask why he doesn't stay at home if he doesn't like what he sees, but see, I don't think he doesn't like where he is. But he is human, and he sees and describes the world he travels thruogh as a human.

So if you expect great travel writing to sound like "and the we visited the pyr
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Jamie
Damnit Paul Theroux, once again you made this book work by the skin of your teeth. Almost as if you can make your books work by sheer force of will and effort as opposed to any clear message. And somehow that works.

So the gimmick or setting of this Paul Theroux travel book is a year and a half, yup, a year and a half spent traipsing through the Pacific islands with a collapsible kayak. Theroux is a master of creating this fantasy of perfect travel: exquisitely written little vignettes informed b
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Bruce
This is the second travel book I’ve read by Paul Theroux, the first having recounted his experiences during a walk around the periphery of Britain. This present work, published in 1992, describes his visit to New Zeeland and Australia and subsequent kayaking throughout the islands of the South Pacific. I enjoyed the work, moderately, but its length and the sameness of his experiences resulted in a tedium that increased as the chapters unfolded.

Theroux characteristically views foreign lands and c
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Andrew
I always like to spend my travel time with the world's leading chronicler of assorted miseries, Paul Theroux, and the idea of the South Pacific has been quite appealing to me lately. He finds things to love-- Hawaii, Easter Island, the Trobriands-- and a great deal to hate as well. And when he hates, he often delivers a hell of a zinger-- that the Fijians, once cannibals, now wanted to push their Indian population out, like diners sending a meal back to the kitchen, for instance.

But oftentimes,
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Loraine
I choose a Paul Theroux travel book when I expect to be short on reading time. I can pick it up, read a leg of his journey and put it down again feeling like I've been away on vacation. Where better to dream a vacation than in a kayak, paddling in the south pacific?

It is not all Zen though. There is danger in the water and on the land as well as pleasures beyond my imaginings. I felt the “paddler’s trance”, and the shock of nature’s fury. Imagine paddling in rough water but holding on fine, lis
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Barb
A combination travelogue and personal reflection, Theroux provides us with his impressions as he travels and paddles his portable kayak from Australia to Hawaii. He visits each of the island groups of the Pacific and provides his impressions of the people who inhabit them and their culture.

Filled with Theroux's witty and humorous observations, the book is a commentary of the clash of the native people and the European's who sought paradise at the expense of native language, culture and sovereign
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Andrew Rosner
I've been on a Paul Theroux kick (not kicking Paul Theroux, as is some reviewers' wont) and I thought I'd acknowledge my appreciation for his work with a review of this book, which is the first Theroux travelogue I encountered. Frankly, I knew nothing about Polynesia and Melanesia, so I was as curious as Theroux undoubtedly was. And who can't help but being initially captivated by tiny, nearly vertical islands surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean?

It's a fascinating journey. Many of these i
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Sarah
Jul 05, 2009 Sarah rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nobody!
This is one of the worst books I've ever read. I'm at the last section of the book and I'm amazed that I've made it this far without giving up. I thought this book was going to be a great ode to the Pacific islands, but instead it was just one man's cynical and downtrodden tirade. Theroux managed to make sweeping generalizations about every group of people he came across, and you were lucky if you could read an entire page without him bitching about how lazy or dumb people were.

I know from my o
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David P
The south sea islands! Stevenson's Samoa, Gauguin's Tahiti, Melville's "Typee," Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific" (with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein), Heyerdahl's "Kon Tiki." Theroux brings their story up to date in a long and detailed travelogue, covering an extensive territory.

His journey starts with New Zealand and Australia, parts of the prosperous western world, though their native inhabitants do not seem to share much of that prosperity. It ends in Hawaii, which also seems fami
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Elizabeth
Mr. Theroux, an often sardonic observer of humanity, takes his readers along for a trip in a collapsible kayak through the Pacific islands. He spends time touring New Zealand and Australia before beginning his paddling journey to places like Fiji, Samoa and Easter Island. He pays attention to cultural moods and intricacies and often notices and brings to light the ever present absurdities. Additionally, he is never afraid to ask the uncomfortable question, which makes him interchangeably admirab ...more
Amy
Huh. Well. What to say about this book that won't put off the rest of my book club fellows before they've read it.

I did not enjoy this book. I think it probably could've been named "The Depressing Isles of Oceania" and been a lot more accurate.

The author is not a very happy person as he travels in his collapsible kayak around the isles. This is perhaps a bit understandable as he & his wife have just split up.

However, there doesn't seem to be anything that can make him happy. People are eith
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Stephanie
I also chose this book, Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, by Paul Theroux, in preparation for our trip to Hawaii (alas, now at least a month in the past). Mr. Theroux describes the journey he began in New Zealand, a journey essentially retracing the steps (!) of the ancient Polynesians as they settled the islands of the Pacific. Mr. Theroux traveled by airplane, not by outrigger canoe, but he carried a little collapsible boat with him, and made sure to get some paddling in at each is ...more
Kika23
Los libros de Theroux no son una guía turística, no buscan atraer otros visitantes al lugar. Para eso, Lonely Planet. Mucha gente acá se queja de que no viajaría con Theroux, pero no creo que Theeroux agradeciera la compañía, tampoco. Este autor en un viajero solitario, que en realidad huye de su vida y que establece una relación crítica con los lugares que visita. No es un vacacionista ni un periodista de viajes. No es "romántico", trata de buscar la realidad tras la parafernalia turística, y s ...more
Caleb
My Theroux adventure continues. Here our curmudgeonly narrator spent a year and a half visiting 51 islands in the Pacific Ocean, starting at Australia and NZ, going through all of Polynesia before ending up at Hawaii. He went there to flee his marriage dissolving in London and that personal issue hangs over the story more so than in his other travelogues. It humanizes him, but in a limited way as Theroux talks of the event without really talking about it. Still, an amazing trip, and I had my wik ...more
Chuck
May 27, 2013 Chuck rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chuck by: Katie Hocevar
No one writes travel books like Paul Theroux. No one has the imagination to pick the destinations and the means of travel as well as this author. I have, to this point, shared rides on the transiberian railroad, the Orient Express, the Nile River, on ships in Lake Victoria and to Sri Lanka and now kayaks in Vanuatu, the Trobriands, New Zealand, and places like Leper Creek and White Grass Village. Theroux is an intelligent pessimist that seems to see human nature as a half filled glass, but can r ...more
Merty
I loved visiting all these islands with Mr. Paul Theroux.
I especially found the last few chapters interesting on
the 2 Hawaiian islands, that one hears so little about.

I feel that P.T. came to full circle as he feels the
painful emotions of his failed relationship but thru
a talk with David Lange, ex-Prime Minister of New
Zealand, one gets a sense that all that paddeling
the Pacific was a healing experience for our author,
and that seeing how someone survived divorce, he, himself (P.T.)
is going to b
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Jennifer
OMG he is so cranky. That is not what I thought I was getting into when reading a travel book. But that's what makes it really interesting and not romanticized. Also the Pacific Islands still have some remote places where life feels completely alien--google Yam Festival. And it makes me want to visit Hawaii in a different way.
Charles
This book was really neat. Mr. Theroux took a year to kayak around many Pacific islands in a collapsible travel kayak. He navigates around sharks, warring tribes, head hunters, and new age Hawaiians. I found that he was happier in this book than some others. He is a sharp observer, even if I don't agree with all his thoughts. He shows how travel can test one's civility. I appreciate that he doesn't hide this, and shares his experiences warts and all. Culture shock sneaks up on you, surprises you ...more
Ram
Nov 05, 2014 Ram rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: travel
Paul Theroux travels to the islands of Oceania and paddles his collapsible kayak in many of them. In the background, his divorce and the first gulf war.
This is the second book I read by the author. The first book, The Mosquito Coast, I found very interesting and inspiring.
The book includes allot of outdoors, camping, sea adventures, exotic scenery, people, history, references to famous people who lived in the islands and foreign culture.
There are allot of points of interest in the book and it
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Jaclynn
I don't normally bother reading travel books. They tend to be overly positive or depressingly negative, one or the other. They tend to focus on the hotels, tours and restaurants rather than the culture and daily life of the people, the natives. Theoroux is refreshing, raw, honest. I really enjoyed reading this book, and would like to find more of his work to read. I am from Hawai'i, and was so happy that the Aloha State was included in the last chapter of his journey around Oceania. I wish he ha ...more
Steve
Eye-opening travelogue of places I knew little about, written in 1991. Some years ago I had read Theroux's "Pillars of Hercules" about his Mediteranean travels and became fascinated by his casual objective style of commentary. Both books discuss the good and the bad of all the places and people he encounters, in a very personal, thought-provoking manner. I learned and was entertained simultaneously, always my preferred result when I read. I could imagine traveling along with him, but I could not ...more
Bob
Jan 09, 2014 Bob rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: Pat Wiberg
Shelves: travel
Some travel books (The Log from the Sea of Cortez, The Cannibal Queen, Blue Highways) reflect an inner journey -- the author's thoughts and emotional changes -- while others (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon) try to portray the actual and present life of a place shadowed against its history and popular image. Theroux manages to do both, escaping from a failed marriage through a near-obsessive kayaking journey through the South Pacific.
Although it's clear that he spent much if not most of that time a
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Jenni
"A traveler was conspicuous for being a stranger, and consequently was vulnerable. But, traveling, I whistled in the dark and assumed all would be well. I depended on people being civil and observing a few basic rules. Generally I felt safer in a place like Anakena than I would have in an American city—or an American campsite, for that matter (mass murderers were known to lurk around campsites). I did not expect preferential treatment. I did not care about power or respectability. This was the c ...more
Claudia
This book was my first Paul Theroux. I probably got it almost twenty years ago, and have read and read and read it. What is he looking for, in this tough moment in his life? I admire his ability to resist making himself look good in every book, but in this one in particular, he is vulnerable and open in his need to find comfort in the familiar, the interesting, the strange. I'm reading it again right now, for the twenty-somethingth time. He's in the Troubled Trobriands right now. I'm not sure wh ...more
Meredith
So after enjoying Dark Star Safari I picked this up and was incredibly disappointed when I fully embraced that while entertaining, Paul Theroux is a total jerk.
Renee
Another winner by my absolute favorite travel writer. Worth every word of the almost 500 page read, Theroux ventures to the South Pacific, exploring fifty-one islands via his collapsible kayak.
Theroux discusses world politics with the king of Tonga, encounters class consciousness in Honolulu, got caught up with street gangs in Auckland, and lived in a bamboo hut in Vanuatu.
I found his travels in the Trobiands, the Solomons, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Easter Islands the most interesting, but all the i
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Lorraine Fijiana
Currently reading this book. Theroux is extremely negative, cranky and unashamedly judgemental of the people of the many islands he has no real knowledge of but having said that, he does give many factual accounts of his travels and in this effect, as a reader you travel with him,sleep and think with him. I am enjoying the travel times and somehow am curious to know more. I am recognising many descriptions although cringing with dismay and half disbelief that he has survived even with the negati ...more
Anna Engel
Sep 18, 2009 Anna Engel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one traveling to Oceania
The book is mostly a narrative of the author's travesl: the people he meets along the way, the places he visits (never to a tourist trap though), and his various complaints. Theroux has a wry humor that appeals to me, and, overall, I enjoyed the book. I like his descriptions of people and that he compares the historical cultures of the various Oceanic islands. He is a grumpy fellow, however, and I kept hoping he would find more joy in life as he traveled, but it was not to be.

He is an incredibly
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
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The Great Railway Bazaar Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town The Mosquito Coast Riding the Iron Rooster The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas

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“just a short trip to any French territory in the Pacific is enough to convince even the most casual observer that the French are among the most self-serving, manipulative, trivial-minded, obnoxious, cynical, and corrupting nations on the face of the earth.” 0 likes
“You travel all over," the woman said. "Do you write about your travels?" I said, Yes, I did. Articles. Books. Whatever. "You must write Paul Theroux-type travel books," she said. I said, Exactly, and told her why.” 0 likes
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