Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific” as Want to Read:
The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  190 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
When Charles Montgomery was ten years old, he stumbled upon the memoirs of his great-grandfather, a seafaring missionary in the South Pacific. Poring over the faint text and faded pictures, he was entranced by the world of black magic and savagery the bishop described, and couldn't help but wonder what drove the Victorian to risk his life among people who had shot, drowned ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published July 3rd 2006 by Harper (first published January 1st 2004)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Shark God, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Shark God

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Darth J
Apr 05, 2013 Darth J rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It can be slow and the narrator can blather on and on. I want believe what he saw was real, but I'm not sure if it was a hallucination or if he was exaggerating to make up for a sort of boring travelogue. I don't remember why I rated it 5 stars, but I did so.... yeah.
Aug 16, 2012 Clayton rated it really liked it
This is a book of mixtures. Not just of the beliefs and rituals of the people of Vanuatu and the Solomon islands with European Christian doctrines, but the mixture of beliefs of the author himself.
The tale of Shark God is Henry Montgomery’s journey to retrace the footsteps of his great-grandfather, a Victorian missionary in the South Pacific, in order to rediscover the mysteries of the dark magic the native inhabitants held before they encountered the Europeans. Montgomery is deeply passionate
Missy J
Tinakula Volcano, Solomon Islands.

2.5 stars.

I read Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) before reading Charles Montgomery's The Shark God (2004), which is also known as "The Last Heathen." Theroux's book was an informative and entertaining travel book that visited over a dozen Pacific island nations, whereas The Shark God retraces the journey of the author's great-grandfather, who was a missionary in Melanesia. Montgomery's travel focuses solely on Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Fu
Jun 11, 2014 Melissa rated it liked it
Montgomery went in search of magic. Well actually he just wanted to trace his ancestor's footsteps, but then his mission quickly became the unknown and magic once he was in Melanesia. This book, rather than be on comparative religion and travel like I thought it would be, actually read more as a memoir (although to be sure there is religion and travel included).

As a young boy, Montgomery discovered journals from his missionary ancestor and the stories contained within fascinated him enough that
Oct 03, 2014 Fiona rated it really liked it
The author learned that his great-grandfather was an Anglican missionary in the 1890's in Melanesia. He decides to travel to the Melanesian Islands (Vanuatu and Solomon Islands including Guadalcanal and Malaita) to see the results of the Christianizing of the islands.

Is this a travel monologue? Yes. Is this an expose of missionary work? Yes. Has Christendom arrived and still present today in the islands? Yes, as long as you understand that many of the pagan myths remain a part of this Christiani
Aug 31, 2013 Wendy rated it it was amazing
I owned this book for six years before finally deciding to try it. Once I began the first chapter, however, I was hooked. Montgomery analyzes history, anthropology, custom and religion without ever being pedantic or didactic. Stylistically, the prose is precise, evoking fine descriptive details that capture the essence of the places and individuals he encounters.

Motivated to learn about his great-grandfather's missionary days in Melanesia, Montgomery discovers and unveils more than place and peo
Aug 25, 2011 Linda rated it it was ok
Shelves: never-finished
Nice writing, the guy clearly has talent. He really makes the setting come alive. There's just something about this book that grates on me and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's that he knows the faults of past writers and explorers (treating local populations like potential museum pieces, delegitimizing their beliefs, you know, the whole colonial approach to non-white non-europeans). Yet, he doesn't seem to miss a chance to write about the mysterious and the "surreal" and the exotic.

But m
Jul 19, 2016 Joshua rated it liked it
The concept was really interesting - a study of traditional religions in the South Pacific, something I really don't know about. The execution was lackluster - though the author's personal connection was valuable, too much of the book was an indulgent travelogue with complaining about conditions and a tone of smug superiority in his post-modern rejection of Christianity; the author does commendably recognize his romanticism of traditional religions. On top of that the author occasionally waxes u ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Peter rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
In hindsight I changed my rating from 3 to 2 stars.

I found the history and descriptions of the islands interesting, but the narrator annoyed the hell out of me, and considering the book is autobiographical, I don't think that was the intention.
While describing historical white people traveling to these islands as racist, and looking at the savage natives, somehow I get the feeling the writer himself is more racist than he'd like to admit.
Also his insistence on challenging everyone he meets on do
May 05, 2011 Amy rated it liked it
This is an informative, interesting (and often entertaining) look at the religious practices of islanders in the South Pacific as observed by the great grandson of a Christian missionary who visited those islands years before.

The subject matter is interesting and the book is well written. I have a problem with non-fiction when there are too many names and facts to remember - probably why I struggled with History in school - and became overwhelmed a little over halfway through the book. Although
Sep 16, 2008 John rated it liked it
A book in the "historical footsteps" genre - the inspiration being Montgomery's own great-grandfather's Victorian missionary work in the islands. Less of a travel narrative than I'd expected, heavier on the anthropological angle, which made it a bit dense. I found Alexander Frater's Tales from the Torrid Zone (also footsteps of local clergy missionary ancestors) easier going, but recommend both.
p2 "Inside was a postcard from Egypt, stamped at Port Said: Jan. 30, 1884. There was no image on the front of the card, just the address of one Reverend Prebendary Plant, the vicar of Weston-on-Trent."

"Myth, like love, is a decision. What it answers is longing. What it demands is faith. What it opens is possibility." p294

Interesting anthropological quest to follow his missionary grandfather's route in Vanuatu and The Solomon Islands.
Sep 06, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Riveting and magical, without trafficking at all in exotification or "Orientalism". You don't have to do those things, it turns out, to be awestruck and surprised by a great many things about cultures of the South Pacific. Montgomery's ancestors helped proselytize and spread Christianity throughout the South Pacific, and he does rigorous yet poetic work here, examining their (ill) impact in detail. I'll definitely re-read this one.
Steve Wiggins
Jun 13, 2015 Steve Wiggins rated it really liked it
A wonderful introduction to how missionaries impact a community in the south Pacific. Montgomery tries to retrace the steps of his ancestors, but finds that quite a bit has changed, even though much remains the same. A good study of how cultural imperialism and faith often fail to acquire the results they want. See more here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Aug 17, 2007 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: partially-read
This is one of those books I stopped reading halfway through and fully intend to finish. Thus far, it deserves four stars. I didn't stop out of boredom or frustration, just distraction.

It's a really interesting exploration of the cargo cults of the South Pacific and the encounters between Christianity and native religions.
Oct 29, 2007 Phyllis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
A combination of travel writing -- through the polynesian islands off the coast of Australia and New Guinea -- and exploration of the intersection of Christian missionary efforts and beliefs and the native ancestor worship on the islands.

My good friend Gary gave me this book for my birthday, and I really enjoyed it.
UGH. having a very hard time getting into this book. I was hoping the author wouldn't take on the very same 'heart of darkness' type ideas of the 'savagery' of the indigenous islanders in Melanesia..

I'm not sure I want to keep reading a book the is recycled racist colonial nostalgia about the paegen and savage brown islanders....
Marjorie Elwood
Jul 11, 2009 Marjorie Elwood rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, canada
I still can't decide how I feel about this book. It's an epic journey, both literally and figuratively, for this Canadian author who follows the myths and tales of his family off to the South Pacific. The author writes beautifully, and with real insight, about religion in that region but I found it dragged. And dragged.
Apr 18, 2015 Andrea rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is actually probably 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the story and the representation of all the islands. It was more than just a tourist history of the islands. The focus on religious myth was an interesting take on it. And overall he did a pretty good job of being equally critical of all parties involved.
Nov 27, 2007 Anna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
i didn't actually finish this book. It certainly has potential to be an interesting read, the subject matter is interesting, and it seemed like that is what was going to carry the story along, at some point. His writing style felt very dry to me, and I found myself skipping over his descriptions of the various islands instead of being drawn into them.
Janet Whitehead
Mar 31, 2011 Janet Whitehead rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I may not have read this book had I not met the author at a party and experienced his shy passion about the story. A true story, and I particularly enjoyed the spiritual aspects that I 'read into it' although it may not have been the same truths as the author's. Memorable story, brilliantly written. And in fact, it became award winning deservably so!
Feb 18, 2008 Pete rated it liked it
Just picked it up off of the shelf at the library, and I was very pleased. I probably should have given it a higher ranking, but there are a lot of books out there. The author is very gifted, and I think labeling him a "travel writer" is a misnomer. I am still working my way through it, but I expect to finish it soon.
This is a travelogue of the Melanesian islands, travelled by a man retracing the steps of an ancestor, who was a missionary in the South Pacific. Pretty interesting story riven by seasickness and substandard plumbing.
Jul 13, 2012 TC rated it really liked it
a must for travelers going to the Solomons, or those who have spent time there and love the South Pacific. Gets a bit "thick" half way through...but I still enjoyed it....captures the moments on those South Pacific interisland ferries perfectly.....
Jan 25, 2012 jmck rated it liked it
Lots of interesting vignettes about wandering through micronesia as a white descendant of an earlier whiter wanderer. Sometimes hard to keep the sequence of events straight.
I think I'd like to buy this so I can read it as slowly as I want. It does sound really fascinating, and I don't want to be rushed by some library deadline.
Jessie B.
A fascinating look at the mixture of tradition, evangelical Christianity and cargo cults that make up Melanesia's spiritual life.
Sep 09, 2013 Wendy rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended by Wendy Burleson. Seamless and stylistically proficient weaving of history, anthrolopology, and reflections upon cultures, customs and religion.
MB (What she read)
Read about half-way. It was interesting, but slow-going. No more renewals from library, had to return. May come back to it later.
Oct 05, 2014 Karin rated it liked it
Shelves: around-the-world
Ok Not what I was expecting. Didn't realize this was non-fiction.

Around the world in 80 books-
Country: Melanesia
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power
  • The Tigris Expedition: In Search of Our Beginnings.
  • Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire
  • Slowly Down the Ganges
  • Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea
  • Kiwis Might Fly
  • South Sea Adventure
  • Throwim Way Leg: Tree-Kangaroos, Possums, and Penis Gourds
  • Six Months in the Sandwich Islands: Among Hawaii's Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Volcanoes
  • The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief
  • End of the Earth: Voyaging to Antarctica
  • Goddesses: A World of Myth and Magic
  • In the Shadow of the Volcano: One Ex-Intelligence Official's Journey through Slums, Prisons, and Leper Colonies to the Heart of Latin America
  • Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
  • The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific
  • Growing Up in New Guinea
  • Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood: A Treasury of Goddess and Heroine Lore from Around the World
  • Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History

Share This Book

“People here are trying to use angels like they once used their ancestral spirits. They are still trying to accumulate and direct mana like their ancestors did. There is almost no reference in this to Christ at all. Christianity is not about wielding power. It’s not about personal charisma. It’s not about mana. It is about meekness. Jesus gave up his power in order to die, weak and helpless, on the cross.” 0 likes
“I don’t understand why this isn’t enough for you. Why the world isn’t enough for you. Why you are so obsessed with magic when you have all the wonder of humanity around you.” 0 likes
More quotes…