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The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  4,171 Ratings  ·  225 Reviews
"Possibly his best travel observant and frequently hilarious account of a trip that took him to 51 Pacific Islands."
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
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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May 28, 2012 Pattie rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 02, 2008 Oceana2602 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is the last book for my year of reading books about or set in or from Oceania. It is bittersweet indeed! This one sat on my shelf at home for several years, actually, and I almost didn't get to it again this year. I think it's Theroux. On one hand he goes on these amazing adventures, on the other hand he is cranky and judgmental and while some reviews claim this trait to be "wickedly funny" (Los Angeles Times) I have this feeling deep down that in another person's hands, the experiences mig ...more
Dec 09, 2008 Mukikamu rated it really liked it
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
Missy J
Aug 06, 2016 Missy J rated it really liked it

"It was in the Trobriands that I had realized that the Pacific was a universe, not a simple ocean.
I especially recalled how one day sailing back to an island we were delayed, and night fell. There were stars everywhere, above us, and reflected in the sea along with the sparkle of phosphorescence streaming from the bow wave. When I poked an oar in the ocean and stirred it, the sea glittered with twinkling sea-life. We sped onward. There were no lights on shore. It was as though we were in an o
Jul 05, 2009 Sarah rated it did not like it
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
Aug 26, 2008 Jamie rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-writing
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
Apr 10, 2014 Loraine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2010 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2010
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
Jan 15, 2013 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 19, 2015 Marilyn rated it really liked it
This travel book by my favorite travel author, Paul Theroux, did not disappoint. Written back in 1992, it is an account of a trip taken through the Pacific Islands shortly after the breakup of his first marriage. Setting off from New Zealand, he travels to Papua New Guinea and then follows the clusters of islands throughout the Pacific Ocean, passing through Easter Island and finishing his trip in Hawaii. Not everything is pleasant in the Happy Isles as I learned that the island of Kahoolawe, ju ...more
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,
Dec 12, 2015 Gerbie7 rated it really liked it
Paul Theroux – The happy isles of Oceania

In de jaren negentig ontdekte ik de reisboeken van Theroux. Cynisch, maar ook wel weer oprecht belangstellend. Niet een doorsnee reiziger, maar wel erg bereisd. Dit dikke boek las ik in 1999. En toen ik ging op reis. Lang. Alleen een rugzak mee. En dan neem je dus niet een boek mee waar je al maar dan 500 bladzijden van gelezen hebt. Wel Oorlog en Vrede, daar heb je veel meer aan.

Zestien jaar later kwam dit boek dus pas weer uit de kast. En voor de zekerh
Apr 05, 2014 Barb rated it really liked it
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
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
David P
Nov 29, 2012 David P rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
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
Nov 07, 2010 Elizabeth rated it liked it
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
Jun 02, 2009 Stephanie rated it really liked it
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
Jun 18, 2013 Kika23 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 21, 2012 Caleb rated it really liked it
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
May 27, 2013 Chuck rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Sep 28, 2009 Merty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 03, 2015 Jennifer rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 09, 2011 Charles rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2015 Claudia rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 05, 2014 Ram rated it liked it
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
Lorraine Fijiana
Feb 05, 2015 Lorraine Fijiana rated it liked it
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
Jan 07, 2016 Lena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great read and one of the best travel books I've come across lately. Living in the Philippines as an expat it helped me realize many things and actually become much calmer in regards to some issues that before were driving me crazy. The book teaches you understanding and approaching lots of issues in this part of the world with humor and detachment. The only thing i didn't quiet like was Theroux's slightly condescending attitude towards tourists - not everyone of us is an actual traveler and eve ...more
May 07, 2014 Jaclynn rated it really liked it
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
Sep 24, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: viaggiare
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
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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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“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.” 1 likes
“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
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