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The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  5,543 ratings  ·  291 reviews
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 crocodile-infested New Guinea, over isolated atolls, through dirty harbors, daring weather and coastlines, he travels by Kayak wherev ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published 1993 by Ballantine (first published 1992)
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Apr 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Until I arrived in Australia many years ago,I had never heard of the island nations of the Pacific.But soon,I became fairly familiar with them as people from many of those islands were living there too.

In a way,I envied them.I've always found a certain charm in the idea of living on a Pacific island.Paradise,however,comes with its share of hazards.

I had earlier read about Paul Theroux's travels by train.This time,he takes an even more unconventional mode of transport,paddling the Pacific,using a
Jan 17, 2008 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.
Diane in Australia
This book seems more pensive than Paul's usual fare, and that may be due to that fact that he set out on this trip right after he, and his wife, separated. So, he was downhearted, and at loose ends emotionally. I think it made him more in tune with his fellow man, looking outward at them from his inner place of sad solitude. He didn't write in a depressing manner, far from it. I felt it was a journey that was close to his heart, in many ways, and somehow he translated that deepness to the writte ...more
Jul 01, 2008 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 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
Sep 01, 2008 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
Missy J

"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 i
Jul 19, 2008 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
Srivatsan Sridharan
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Travel writing isn't easy. I've read books that start off as engaging, but quickly lose the reader with dense facts, boring subtleties and the rigors of a timeline based storytelling ("this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened."). Yes, this book has the facts, the subtleties and the rigors, but they are never too dense or rigorous or boring. Paul Theroux is a gifted writer and in this book, he managed to keep me hooked all through its 528 pages. The fact that I traveled to Is ...more
Oct 09, 2011 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
Aug 16, 2010 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 either t
David P
Nov 29, 2012 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
Jan 15, 2013 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
Jun 02, 2009 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
Jan 13, 2015 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
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Tropical paradise? Forget about it! After divorcing his first wife, Paul Theroux went for a long journey in the South Pacific, visiting all of 51 islands. The result of his travels was The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, a somewhat less than halcyon view of Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. Perhaps the collapse of his marriage had something to do with it, but Theroux did not find much to like in the Happy Isles: In fact, most places get an outright pan, as havi ...more
Jolanta (knygupe)
"What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if you're not in a hurry."
Sep 17, 2013 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
Chris Steeden
I am now 45 years old and this is the first Paul Theroux book I have read (add a suitably embarrassed emoji). I have seen the Mosquito Coast film and most of his travel books are on my wishlist. This is not a Bill Bryson laugh out loud or a Michael Palin pleasant trip with many helpers but a one man tour-de-force in a collapsible kayak.

I admit it did take me a little time to get into but was rewarding once I did. What an insight to these islands and the people this book is. Don't expect a lovely
Jul 20, 2013 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,
Feb 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel

This was a good book, but it gets tiring when he doesn't like any of the islands until he gets to Hawaii and into a posh hotel. I would rather read a travel writer that found interest in people in other countries instead of pointing out the bad. All I remember was his complaining about how the natives used to ocean for garbage and the restroom, and then the posh hotel in Hawaii.
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
In the early 1990's, travel writer and author Paul Theroux is at a lifestyle change as his marriage has fallen apart. He decides to go back on the road and travels through the islands of Oceania where he will have time to process the change and think about the future. As he travels, he explains the layout of the archipeleo as well as the culture of the people he encounters.

It is an ambitious undertaking. He visits islands which most people have heard of, Fiji, New Zealand, the Solomons, Samoa, H
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Theroux takes planes, ferries, helicopters, and his kayak around fifty-odd Pacific islands. As usual, he's critical of all he sees, occasionally hypocritical, observant but prone to overgeneralization, often unhappy. But, he experiences a lot, he gets into conversation with a lot of people without taking advantage of them, he's funny. I think what distinguishes this from the previous Theroux I read, "Dark Star Safari," is that Theroux overall very much enjoys his travels through the Pacific, and ...more
Troy Parfitt
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Paul Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania

I’m a big fan of Paul Theroux, at least his travel literature (the only novel of his I’ve read is Waldo, his debut, which, despite moments of hilarity, doesn’t quite come off). In the travel genre, I’ve read his The Great Railway Bazaar, The Kingdom by the Sea, The Pillars of Hercules, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

The Great Railway Bazaar is a masterpiece, the others merely very good to outstanding. Time
Apr 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: awful
I somehow made my way through 175 pages of this book before I decided that I didn't need to finish it. It was such a relief to realize that I don't need to spend more than 500 pages with this miserable man. Was the title supposed to be ironic? No one in the book could be described as being 'Happy'.

He's both traveling through the Pacific islands and going through a breakup with his wife. I'm assuming that the breakup is the reason he's so miserable. The amount of time he spends writing about his
Jan Willem  Nijman
Paul Theroux goes on amazing trips and writes about them vividly, exploring curiously and encountering all sorts of interesting characters. He's also such a fucking White Dude who sees himself as a passive neutral observer instead of a hyperprivileged grumpy asshole. I love reading about the trips and the stories but it's some unethical shit.
Dec 30, 2013 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
Nov 04, 2010 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
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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
“Even in Africa, I had never seen such a profusion of stars as I saw on these clear nights on Pacific isles - not only big beaming planets and small single pinpricks... but also glittering clouds of them - the whole dome of the sky crowded with thick shapes formed from stars, overlaid with more shapes, a brilliant density, like a storm of light over a black depthless sea, made brighter still by twisting auroras composed of tiny star grains - points of light so fine and numerous they seemed like luminous vapor, the entire sky hung with veils of light like dazzling smoke... they made night in Oceania as vast and dramatic as day.” 1 likes
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