Selected for Kirkus Reviews "Best Books of 2011" From the award-winning author of The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre and The Beautiful Miscellaneous comes a sweeping historical novel set amid the skyscrapers of 1890s Chicago and the far-flung islands of the South Pacific. In the waning years of the nineteenth century there was a hunger for tribal artifacts, spawning collecting voyages from museums and collectors around the globe. In 1897, one such collector, a Chicago insurance magnate, sponsors an expedition into the South Seas to commemorate the completion of his company's new skyscraper--the world's tallest building. The ship is to bring back an array of Melanesian weaponry and handicrafts, but also several natives related by blood. Caught up in this scheme are two orphans--Owen Graves, an itinerant trader from Chicago's South Side who has recently proposed to the girl he must leave behind, and Argus Niu, a mission houseboy in the New Hebrides who longs to be reunited with his sister. At the cusp of the twentieth century, the expedition forces a collision course between the tribal and the civilized, between two young men plagued by their respective and haunting pasts. An epic and ambitious story that brings to mind E. L. Doctorow, with echoes of Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Bright and Distant Shores is a wondrous achievement by a writer known for creating compelling fiction from the fabric of history.
Dominic grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of five novels, including The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, a New York Times bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. Dominic's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Chicago Tribune, Texas Monthly, The Australian, and The New York Times. He has received literature fellowships from the Australia Council for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches writing in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. More information can be found on his website: www.dominicsmith.net.
Since I met the author, Dominic Smith, in 2006 for an interview in Austin, Texas, to talk about his then newly published first novel, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre—I was working on an article for the alumni magazine of a Michigan liberal arts college—I have been enthralled with his work. Not a chance that I would miss any of his books. And by now, there are three.
Bright and Distant Shores is Smith’s third novel, and it will be available September 2011. I rocked on my heels in glee when my advance reading copy arrived. Would it meet my high expectations? His first two novels (The Beautiful Miscellaneous was his second) received bountiful critical acclaim.
Smith’s awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize and the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize. In 2006, his debut novel, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, was selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great News Writers Program. It also received the Steven Turner Prize for First Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Smith's second novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, was optioned for a film by Southpaw Entertainment and was a pick for Booklist Editors' Choice.
I settled in to be immersed, and I quickly would be. Bright and Distant Shores has depth and length and breadth in all senses of these concepts. The story unfolds to rise high on the skyscrapers of Chicago in 1897 and sails far on the high seas to land on South Pacific islands, from one kind of exotica to another, from that which is thought of as “civilized” to that which has been called “savage,” even as the two mix and meld.
Hale Gray, president of Chicago First Equitable, yearns to thump his chest atop his skyscraper, the tallest building at that time on the Chicago skyline. To bring customers to his insurance business and to gain notoriety in the city, he bankrolls a ship to take Owen Graves and a colorful crew, including his son Jethro, on a voyage to bring back artifacts from faraway places—along with “savages.” This is Gray’s scheme to attract crowds to his business. He plans to set up a display of sorts on the top of his skyscraper where the natives will live in full view of the hoped-for crowds.
Smith has said that the idea for his novel came from a press clipping about a similar scheme in 1897, when a group of Inuit were brought to the American Museum of National History in New York to create a living public display. The Inuit soon became ill of diseases to which their systems were not accustomed, and all of them eventually, tragically, died. The scenario haunted Smith enough to become the seed of the idea for Bright and Distant Shores.
From that seed grew what so well thrives under Smith’s pen: the finest of literary storytelling. The book tells the story of the voyage of richly colored characters, so real we can smell their stink rise from the pages, see their spit on the rims of their beer glasses, rock in our armchairs along with the gales that fill their ship sails, and blush with shame at their treatment of “savages” who, in fact, speak a scholarly English and are far more civilized than the men who lure them overseas for gaping crowds.
“Owen and Jethro stood on the balcony where Baz Terrapin slouched against the railing, big-knuckled and half naked, a white towel around his flaccid middle. He was drinking beer before noon and staring into the mire of his glass. ‘I prefer bottom-fermented beers, like to taste the yeast and hops …’ He took a swig from his jug of fizzing ale, still dripping from his daily plunge in the frigid bay.‘Constitutional swim is what it is. Testicles like a pair of clams winking shut from the cold. Ah, the heart expands and pumps … gets as big as a Christmas ham. Ticker of a racehorse in here.’ He tapped at his rib cage, grinned. His enormous girth, coupled with the constellation of scars and moles spread across his torso, reminded Owen of the barnacled hull of an ancient, waterlogged ketch. He hunkered across the balcony, a hand spread against his paunch, thumb tucked into the edge of the wrapped towel.” (Page 115-116)
Turn the page open in whatever place in the book and the lines will all be this lush. If on occasion my affections for the characters waned, Smith’s artistry reined me in again. It was that artistry that kept me reading through the first half or so, words like plump fruit, irresistible, but he truly hit his stride in the second half, when rich writing combined fully with rich characterizations, so that I cared, too, about the people in the story and not just the unweaving of the tale.
If there is any small weakness to Smith’s writing, it is that—he can be so caught up in the literary artistry that his characters sometimes pale in comparison. I’m almost glad. One shouldn’t reach perfection so early in the run, after all. And Smith very nearly has.
From the award-winning author of The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre and The Beautiful Miscellaneous comes a sweeping historical novel set amid the skyscrapers of 1890s Chicago and the far-flung islands of the South Pacific. In the waning years of the nineteenth century there was a hunger for tribal artifacts, spawning collecting voyages from museums and collectors around the globe. In 1897, one such collector, a Chicago insurance magnate, sponsors an expedition into the South Seas to commemorate the completion of his company’s new skyscraper—the world’s tallest building. The ship is to bring back an array of Melanesian weaponry and handicrafts, but also several natives related by blood.
Caught up in this scheme are two orphans—Owen Graves, an itinerant trader from Chicago’s South Side who has recently proposed to the girl he must leave behind, and Argus Niu, a mission houseboy in the New Hebrides who longs to be reunited with his sister. At the cusp of the twentieth century, the expedition forces a collision course between the tribal and the civilized, between two young men plagued by their respective and haunting pasts.
An epic and ambitious story that brings to mind E. L. Doctorow, with echoes of Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Bright and Distant Shores is a wondrous achievement by a writer known for creating compelling fiction from the fabric of history.
"An epic and ambitious story that brings to mind E. L. DoctorPW" is a good summation of the magnificent writing talents of Dominic Smith, as he brings both late 19th Century Chicago and the mysteries and glory of the South Pacific to life, Bright and Distant Shores is a novel that has so much going for it that a complete review would take up pages and pages! Suffice to say, Bright and Distant Shores is a complex and wonderful read, one which will remain with the reader long after the last page is read.
A JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB MUST READ
RICK FRIEDMAN FOUNDER THE JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB MUST READ
I discovered this author because Bright and Distant Shores been short-listed for the 2011 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards – and I shall certainly be chasing up Smith previous novels down at the library. He’s a wonderful story-teller, combining a rollicking style, an intriguing love story and food for thought about the impact of collectors on indigenous societies during the 18th century Enlightenment.
Owen Graves is a most interesting hero. Bright and Distant Shores is a many-layered quest – for in the quest to trade in South Pacific artefacts, the orphaned Owen is seeking a turn-of-the-century identity to transcend his impoverished background and make himself a worthy husband for an heiress. His problem is that Adelaide is committed to the notion of human rights for all, and that doesn’t square nicely with the contract Owen has signed with the insurance mogul who’s financing the quest. Hale Gray has demanded that Owen also bring back some ‘savages’ for an ‘exhibition’ to take place on the rooftop of the skyscraper that’s about (briefly) to be the tallest in Chicago. (He’s also insisted that Owen take along Gray’s disappointing son Jethro, to ‘make a man’ of him).
I feel like I should have enjoyed this book more, there just was something about the characters that left me a touch cold. And the ending was just a bit too open to a sequel, which I'm annoyed by because I don't think the story is worth continuing. Not an awful read, just a little bit hollow.
Bright and Distant Shores opens and closes in Chicago and sure to please any lover of that city. It is history, love and adventure all rolled up in to on lovely package that will not disappoint.
The story opens in the summer of 1897 at the opening of Chicago First Equitable, the world's tallest skyscraper at 28-stories. The owner of this skyscraper, Hale Gray would like to have a unique "show" on the rooftop in order to attract people to the building in order to sell more insurance policies. The driving force behind this vision is a fierce competition with another local collector and magnate, Marshall Field.
Hale enlists a young adventurer, Owen Graves, to procure him artifacts as well as "savages" for his show. This requires Owen to sail on a boat through the South Pacific, leaving Adelaide, his fiance behind, giving him some anxiety since he has already delayed their marriage for years. Owen also knows that, Adelaide, would not approve of the idea of bringing savages to Chicago after events that occurred during the 1893 World's Colombian Expedition, but the monetary reward is too great for Owen to turn this opportunity down, seeing it as his chance to provide a solid footing with Adelaide, who grew up privileged.
Thus starts the adventure through the South Pacific, where there are vivid descriptions of the islands in which they travel and the indigenous they encounter. We learn about "faux-pa's" crew members make with the indigenous tribes, we get a feel for their personalities and how they interact with one another. Through the journey, Owen finds himself babysitting Jethro, Hale Gray's son, who has been sent on the trip to find himself and collect specimens. Jethro causes quite a few problems on the trip and descents into madness by the trips completion.
Throughout the South Seas adventure, Owen and Adelaide manage to stay in contact. Even though the voyage is amazing, I always felt like I wanted Owen to go back to Adelaide. I just wanted Owen to be done with this voyage and find a happy life with Adelaide, which, of course, is the same thing Adelaide desires.
This is a fabulous book with wonderful imagery and an eloquent writing style. A must read!
Bright and Distant Shores By Dominic Smith An Insurance Company in Chicago built a skscraper of a building. The Ceo sent his son and his sons friend on an excursion on a sailing ship that would take them to the Pacific Islands and back to Chicago to bring back artifacts to be displayed on the top floors of the insurance building. The sons friend Owen went along too. The author through the characters,showed trust, courage, love and morality which made this story very interesting.
Set in the late 1800’s, Dominic Smith’s third novel, Bright and Distant Shores follows a Heart of Darkness template. It is the kind of historical fiction that takes men out of their natural elements, puts them in worlds where they should never be and then adds a crisis.
Following a vogue of the time a Chicago insurance kingpin Hale Gray finances an expedition to the South Seas to gather up an array of Melanesian artifacts with which to decorate his new skyscraper. Seems the perfect collection to celebrate the latest World’s Tallest Building, right? Along with the weapons, bowls and other crafts the expedition is also charged with bringing back several natives. Hmmm…
Enter the historical novel’s required orphan, Owen. Owen is the son of a late demolitions expert from the South Side. A previous trip to Melanesia brought Owen to the attention of Gray and that led to him to hire Owen to lead a new voyage to Melanesia in order to plunder. Owen leaves the girl he loves behind and off he goes. Trouble starts almost immediately. The crew is made up of ex-cons and Jethro the spoiled son of Gray who is brought on as the expedition’s resident naturalist despite his lack of any useful experience in that area.
Owen is not happy about Gray’s insistence that some natives, related by blood, be brought back to Chicago. However despite Owens misgivings Argus Niu, a failed warrior turned Protestant mission houseboy and his sister Malini are selected to make the return trip along with the handicrafts and wild animals. Once in the city Argus and Malini are forced to perform in racist and degrading parodies of native life.
The history in Bright and Distant Shores is interesting, the characters are strong with good backstories but it is in the blurring of worlds that this novel really excels. We start out knowing where the divide is between civilization and the wild and then Dominic Smith slowly erases that line. Bright and Distant Shores is impressively propelled by writing that entertains and questions.
My last book review of 2019! This was the second fairly massive book I read in December – although it was only about half the size of A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. This is a slow-moving, heavily detailed novel that takes place in 1890’s Chicago. Owen Graves has been asked by insurance magnate Hale Gray to undertake a shipping expedition to the South Seas to retrieve native artifacts and even a few natives to be used as an exhibition to draw customers into his new skyscraper. I loved all the details about Chicago – Hale Gray’s building of the first skyscraper in Chicago and the founding of the Field History Museum by Marshall Fields. Hale and Marshall Fields were neighbors and had an unpleasant competitive relationship about many things, but especially native artifacts. There is also a love story between Owen and Adelaide, an independent, wealthy and free-thinking young woman who works for the Field Museum. A great deal of the novel covers Owen’s sea voyage and how the natives were no longer naïve enough to want glass beads and trinkets. Owen ends up returning with a brother and sister from the South Seas to work in Hale Gray’s exhibition with surprising results. This was a great novel to end my 2019 reading!
"Greed is good." Even though this famous phrase was first vocalized in a movie made in the 1980s, this phrase has dictated the American business model for generations. The only difference is that this greed that greases the wheels of the economy takes different forms as one progresses through history. At the turn of the century, greed took the form of height and artifacts. Dominic Smith's Bright and Distant Shores discusses at length the greed for each that gripped the country and specifically Chicago in the late 1890s. It provides a prosaic and sound warning against the greed which causes people to disregard the safety and health of others in order to be ranked among the upper echelons of society and within a global economy.
This is not a story where the good guy wins everything and lives happily ever after. One really could describe Bright and Distant Shores as the antithesis of or, more accurately, the reality behind the much-adored American dream. In true American dream fashion, Owen Graves and Argus Niu are poor and downtrodden. Graves has been forced to make ends meet since the untimely death of his father. He wants to win the girl but needs money to do so. Niu is maligned by whites because he is a native and by his tribesmen for ingratiating himself with the whites; it is the ultimate no-win situation. By ignoring their individual upbringings, those cherished lessons taught to them by their fathers, each manages to eke out some facsimile of success. That success, however, comes with a price and more importantly does not guarantee happiness.
Bright and Distant Shores is also a tale of two stories. On the one hand, the reader gets an in-depth look at trading during the turn of the century. On the other hand, the reader gets an in-depth look at Chicago and life among the fabulously wealthy and powerful as well as the working echelons of the city. Unfortunately, the city imagery and narrative cannot compare to the wealth of detail and exotic descriptions provided in the trading sections of the novel. There is a definite pall over the entire story whenever the action occurs in Chicago. The characters in each section are just as disparate. While Graves and Niu dominate both sections, the scenes held in Chicago while both men are still at sea are flat and insipid in comparison to the colorful scenery and larger-than-life cast of characters on the ship. Once everyone is back in Chicago, gone is the sense of danger and mystery, and the reader is no longer afraid that either hero will find himself in mortal danger. The story simply loses steam.
Historically, Bright and Distant Shores is a fascinating glimpse into the turmoil occurring in city landscapes at the turn of the century and the insane obsession with and fierce competition for native goods. Narratively, the story struggles between the adventures of island artifact hunting and the more mundane aspects of life in Chicago. While Mr. Smith has attempted to create an exploration novel in the more traditional grandiose fashion, Bright and Distant Shores falls flat once the narrative reaches land-locked Chicago. From a historical perspective, the shining star of the narrative is the fabulous array of details that allows the reader to easily imagine life in the South Seas, aboard ship, or behind closed doors of those who built and controlled the first modern-day skyscrapers. Mr. Smith's research is thoroughly and meticulously relayed throughout the story and strengthening the air of realism that already exists in this historical coming-of-age story.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Atria Books for my review copy!
Wow, a balanced and interesting story, about the late 19th century, the down and dirty ways of a Chicago robber baron and his bigotry. Many cultural changes were taking place in America and its overseas contacts at this time after the adoption of Manifest Destiny as a national policy. (It had been been clearly stated as part of the Monroe doctrine in 1822).
According to Michael Lubragge: "First used in 1845, the term Manifest Destiny conveyed the idea that the rightful destiny of the US included imperialistic expansion...[it]emerged naturally and inevitably out of fundamental want and need to explore and conquer new lands and establish new borders. With this growth came moral, cultural, social, ideological and economic differences between people, states and countries." [See citation below.]
Smith places his story in the period leading up to the Spanish American War, the 1890s, a time in US history when this philosophy was beginning to be questioned by thinking people and leaders, among them Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie and Grover Cleveland, even as Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison were reviving the idea of an American empire. (Something even Lincoln frowned on.)The Monroe doctrine had been recently formulated by James Monroe, fearing the influence of Spain and other European powers in Latin America.
Smith's story takes place in Chicago and in the South Seas, where his protagonist, a youthful adventurer, is determined to meet the challenge given him by a Chicago magnate to procure something wild and savage he can use to cultivate interest in the products he sells. This eminent (and wealthy) personage is keen to display his elitism in cultivating global contacts and equate his business with "civilization".
The questions Smith poses are germane today, i.e., to whose ultimate advantage does this "globalism" take place? He also has us considering other story levels than the basely overt; where greed originates and what causes people to change from being tolerant and generous into their opposites by allowing themselves to be co-opted.
Ultimately, what causes us all to make odd or unusual choices in life and are we being farsighted when we make these decisions? Do they come from letting go or holding on? How much control do we want to have over the outcome after all?
Bright and Distant Shores is a period piece that is set in the waning years of the 1800’s. It is clearly based on extensive research on multitudes of diverse topics. If it weren’t for the story line, the book could be a sociological and anthropological treatise. It is resplendent with details of life at that time—from the street scenes of Chicago to the introduction of skyscrapers to the technology involved in the ice block industry to the commonly held view of peoples of the equatorial islands as savages to transoceanic travel-- it is all expounded on between the covers of this book. Some readers may find these details distracting, but I enjoyed the depth of them and felt that they enriched and supported my understanding and appreciation of the plot.
The plot definitely held my interest. At its most basic, it is the story of a laborer and a magnate who intersect with a common interest in exploiting equatorial island cultures—one with the plan to become the holder of the most prestigious collection of native artifacts and the other to make a decent living. Along the way the reader is introduced to several more fascinating characters who equally represent the era.
The writing is dense and brimming with information. The vocabulary is expansive and challenging. These aspects do not intrude or distract from the story line although I did have to eventually abandon my standard practice of looking up all the words I was not familiar with. Overall, this book left me with an understanding of just how global our world has become in the last few decades. Now, we have the world at our fingertips and with just a few strokes on the keyboard, we can access different lands and different times. Smith’s book reminds us of how this has not always been the case.
Bright and Distant Shores by Dominic Smith ensnared me and captivated my full attention from the very first chapter. It sets a brisk pace in an atmospheric nineteenth century period setting.
Young Owen Graves loves treasure hunting, remnants of people passed, bits of metal fixtures, all thrill him. His Chicago-based building-wrecker father's demolition sites further develop this love and provide fertile hunting grounds for the young lad. Unfortunately, early in the book Owen sees his father crushed to death at one of his sites. Orphan Owen is on his own and so begins a brilliant book.
Some years pass and Owen meets his fiancee Adelaide (this is an Australian author so nice tie in there) when Owen takes on a trip to Melanesia to gather artifacts which, when sold, will provide the needed funds to marry Adelaide. Hale Grey, an insurance mogul, in competition with Marshall Field (yes, THAT Marshall Field, the wealthiest department store magnate in Chicago), hires Owen to bring back certain items and a number of "natives" that he plans on exhibiting/exploiting.
So well has the author described the islands that I could feel the sea mist on my cheeks and smell the now creaky buildings. A beautiful choice for a reading group or as a sure to be liked stocking stuffer.
I loved this novel! It is filled with history, drama, love and friendship, and is so well written that it's easy to just fall into the world of Owen and Adelaide. Set in Chicago in the 1890's, the novel takes us on a ship journey to foreign lands in search of artifacts as Owen is hired by an insurance magnate, Hale Gray, to undertake the voyage on his behalf. There are a couple of surprise developments before the voyage even begins, the details of the cargo present a dilemma, and Gray's son is to be a part of the ship's crew. However, the money that Owen will make on this one voyage will be enough to help him settle down, start a business, and get married. The voyage is a delight to read about. Jethro, Hale's son, turns out to be every bit the handicap that Owen expected him to be, and Argus, a subsequent addition to the ship's crew, is pure entertainment. Once Owen returns, he finds that his job is far from over, and the story takes some very interesting twists. I felt like I was taken on a great adventure as I read this novel!
Bright and Distant Shores definitely falls into the category of heavier historical fiction. Smith's writing is beautiful and does such a fantastic job of fleshing out late 19th century Chicago and the wilds of the South Pacific, that his characters actually play a distant second fiddle. I was completely captivated by Smith's poetic, all-encompassing writing and scene setting that I barely remember the plot - only that it involved the unlikely romance of an independent and wealthy woman and the barely-scraping-by son of a building demolisher as well as a sister and brother who are transplanted from the South Pacific to make a new life for themselves, only starting by playing savages for a rich man's spectacle. There's a lot going on in this book about adventure, exploration, wealth, and love. It's all almost too much to digest, but there's no denying that the picture it paints of a decade where so much is changing is as compelling as it is genuine.
I can see why this book was named on Kirkus' Top Fiction of 2011. It deserved it. I loved the characters in this book and, to boot, the unusual exoticness of setting was beautifully written (I can't go into this because I would need to wander into Spoilerland). This book sucked me in almost immediately because I thought it was going to be one thing and it went in a seperate direction. Although, I found myself really enjoying the character's, I don't think it was necessarily for who they were but more for how they were written.
Word of warning: This is a long book, but give yourself the time!
Set in the 1890's, this ia a fine work of historical fiction about the development of private museums in Chicago and the impact of missionaries and artfact traders on the lives of people in the southern Pacific Isles. Set in Chicago, it describes the city's culture and class system through the eyes of a working- class seaman, a wealthy progressive woman who volunteers at Hull House, and a Pacific islander who was educated by a Scottish missionary. Great characters and a lively plot move this along.
I was looking forward to this after reading "The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos" by this author. (5 stars). However this book didn't seem to be written by the same author---none of the same light touch. It was the story of an 1890's trip around the Pacific Islands, picking up artefacts along the way (including natives) to take back to an Exhibition in Chicago---600 pages of slow moving, turgid action.
3 stars out of 5 - I read a library softbound over the past couple of weeks. There are parts of it that sparkle, and parts of it that are too long winded. I wanted to like it more because it touched on many subjects that interest me, but in the end I found getting through it more of a struggle than a pleasure.
This book wasn't for me. I just couldn't get into the story. I didn't grab me from the get go and I tried to stick it out even after 100 pages in but I ended up putting it down and grabbed a different book.
This book’s follows two men, and the people who surround them on a tour of American colonialism. One is a man from Chicago, Owen graves, who is trying to make his fortune by trading for native artifacts in the pacific. The second man, Argus, is Melanesian, but harbors dreams of becoming a preacher after working for a Scottish missionary. The brutality and ugliness of Eugenics and colonialism are on full display in this novel. Rape is addressed several times, and Dominic Smith artfully shows that it isn’t just the shipment men pillaging the islands, who are violating the natives. The wealthy Americans at the hart of the system are also to blame for defiling the island culture. This is shown via the character Jethro Hale, the son of the insurance magnate who is financing the mission. He believes he just an objective naturalist, but when given the opportunity he also abuses his position of power to get what he wants. The historical detail in this book is staggering! It is incredibly well researched and artfully written. Though it drags in the middle, and is dense, Bright and Distant Shores does not disappoint.
I really liked this book. Set in Chicago and the South Sea islands, it tells the story of how Owen sails to the islands to procure artifacts for an insurance company run by Hale Gray, but the twist is native people are also to be brought back to be exhibited. Owen must keep the true nature of the trip from his fiancee Adelaide, and must also stop the other sailors from killing the insurance king's heir; the hapless Jethro. They eventually do meet some natives but not what Hale is expecting. Argus is fantastic & I liked Malini as well. The characters are sympathetically & realistically realised, & I cared about what happened to them. It is really well written, the pace moves quickly, there are no boring bits or bits I skipped over. I may have absorbed a bit of knowledge about sailing as well. An excellent adventure story. The ending did make me a bit sad but there was resolution for all, if not by the end of the book, in their near future. Highly recommended.
Almost a swash-buckler, almost a travelogue, but with one foot in industrial boom Chicago making it also a portrait of that city in a time when the western world's fascination with the "primitive" cultures of the far hemispheres raised uncomfortable ethical questions for a well-rounded and engaging cast of characters.
It's never a good sign when I don't feel like picking up a book at bedtime. This was an ok tale, but certainly not engrossing, and a good example of why sometimes it's just not worth exploring an author's back catalogue when you have enjoyed a more recent title. Glad it's done - nothing to write home about!
Once you get past the gambling part and into the bargaining for relics part it's quite gripping and well written. While the story focuses on the Caucasian couple, the Melanesian brother and sister are more interesting, and their story is left hanging. But then it's obvious that being a woman or a person of color was more difficult at the turn of the century (and still is, usually).
This was a very fun book. Rollicking and eventful, the story takes you on an adventure through the south seas while tending to the society concerns of turn of the century Chicago. Most importantly, the characters are better tended to by Smith. I cared about them and I believed in their stories, no matter how small. This is a fun, not great book. I recommend it.