Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Pattern Of Islands” as Want to Read:
A Pattern Of Islands
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Pattern Of Islands

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  43 reviews
The funny, charming, and self-deprecating adventure story of a young man in the Pacific. Living for thirty years in the Gilbert & Ellis Islands, Grimble was ultimately initiated and tattooed according to local tradition, but not before he was severely tested, as when he was used as human bait for a giant octopus. Beyond the hilarious and frightening adventure stories, A Pa ...more
264 pages
Published (first published January 1st 1952)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

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

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  204 ratings  ·  43 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of A Pattern Of Islands
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Some of you will be wondering how I could choose a memoir by an actual colonial officer as my world challenge book for Kiribati. The answer is that the country's literary presence seems limited to white men's expat memoirs. Within that category, this appears to be the book based on the greatest experience of the islands and their people: Arthur Grimble worked as a British colonial officer in what were then known as the Gilbert Islands for about 20 years, the first six (1914 – 1920) of which are ...more
Arthur Grimble was fresh out of Oxford and was interviewed by the colonial office for a post overseas. He got the job and was despatched to the other side of the world to work on the Gilbert Islands in the pacific. This was the time of colonialism and he was starting there as a cadet officer. Coming from the UK this was a form of paradise and it was going to be a place that he was to fall in love with over the next three decades.

You probably think, Grimble, that you’re here to teach these people
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Arthur Grimble clearly cherished his years spent as a colonial official in the Gilbert and Ellis Islands. He started his tenure as a young man with a new wife in 1914 and remained in the islands until 1933, although this book only relates his tale up to 1919. Grimble is honest about his naivete and inexperience and gives much credit to the native islanders who were both helpful and amused by his lack of knowledge. His adventures dealing with storms, unusual food, native customs, Pacific flora an ...more
Marina (Sonnenbarke)
This is a great book, funny and very well written, by a British civil servant who lived in the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) for nineteen years, from 1914 to 1933. Written in 1952, it recounts events a century old, so it definitely is dated, but it's worth reading nonetheless. If you want to understand more about today's tragic situation in the Republic of Kiribati, consider reading this long article by Jeffrey Goldberg:

For a longer review in Italian, pl
Dec 01, 2016 rated it liked it
I liked Arthur Grimble and his book. He's humble and self-deprecating in a way that feels true and unforced; he's appropriately respectful of the culture he's portraying; and he seems to have made every effort to assimilate into that culture as much as possible. He was adopted by an elder on the island where he lived, taught to recite his new family's lineage in the oral tradition of their ancestors, and was permitted to be ritually tattooed as part of his initiation into I-Kiribati society.

Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
My Dad told us that 'burping' after a meal was considered polite in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. It is not in the UK. He was a very gentle father who did not like having to tell us off, but when he did we remembered. This is the book where he found that interesting little snippet of information.

In 1913 Arthur Grimble went to the Gilbert and Ellice islands as a cadet in the colonial service (a junior administrative officer), becoming a District Officer in 1916, based on Tawara and then Abemama
Colin Whittaker
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I clearly remember the story of octopus fishing with human bait from my English classes in school some 30+ years ago and decided the pleasant memory was not in too much danger from revisiting the "autobiography".
How glad I am that I did reread it.
This is an end of empire story that is in serious danger of giving colonialism a good name. The protagonist, Authur Grimble, tells us of a lost time in the South Pacific and leaves me at least, craving for a time machine and a posting with the UK coloni
Bob Newman
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Neophyte Nabob's Narrations of Natives & Nature

Back in 1914 a young colonial officer went off with his wife on his first assignment to the Gilbert Islands in the central Pacific. These islands and their inhabitants had been under British rule for only 22 years at the time. But unlike the stereotype of a pukka sahib, the aloof colonial officer, Arthur Grimble developed a love of the islands and their people. He writes about them with interest and sympathy, telling all kinds of tales against himse
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grimble was an British govt administrator in Kiribati (kir - ee - bas) / Gilbert Islands before and during WW2. His work is only matched (or close) to H E Maude. A great non-US Pacific read.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A special book about life in the Gilbert & Ellis Islands (now Kiribati) in the early-mid 1900’s.

The story is told by a British Authority, Arthur Grimble, whilst the nation was a British Protectorate. Grimble’s humour is hilarious. He is constantly putting himself down for everyone else’s amusement. There was one story where he was new to the language and said during his first public address how great it is to meet everyone but how much better it is to say goodbye.

He sounds like an inspirationa
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Arthur Grimble was a British colonial administrator on various islands in the Pacific from 1914 to 1948. This memoir tells of his time in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from 1914 to 1933. While colonial memoirs can be tedious, Grimble's is anything but. Along with a sense of self-deprecating humor and a gift for storytelling, Grimble has been reknowned as one of the few colonial administrators to develop a deep understanding and appreciation of the areas where he worked. Grimble doesn't escape a ...more
Ariel-lionel -avramlabehalevi
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone over the age of 27
Recommended to Ariel-lionel by: mentioned in a wiki article on the Gilbert Islands
this is a most amazing book!
I'm fascinated, entertained and gripped by the accounts he gives of the lives and feats of the then Gilbert Islanders and also by his own brilliant achievements, which he writes about with much modesty, but also with humour.
I'm delighted that not only is there a sequel of his to read written in the 50s, but also a film to see - Pacific Destiny - based on the 1st book! :)
My only criticism of the book is that I'd like to have read more about his wife Olivia and their ch
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tweedledum by: Headteacher
Well it took me thirty years or more to get around to reading this little treasure of a book which had sat on my bookshelves through many moves. Once begun I could not put it down. Faithfully recalling a life now long gone on the Gilbert and Ellis Islands and by turns funny, tragic, fascinating and challenging Arthur Grimble writes with a candid, nostalgic but confident tone about his time there. Now , I suppose this book could be appropriately shelved as anthropology although it was not written ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amazing and weird book. The kind where you have to put it down after each chapter to savour what you just read. What to make of the ghost stories? Including ghosts that whistle? Or the summoning of porpoises who willingly beach themselves and are later chopped up and eaten?

It's surprisingly advanced in its politics, or perhaps rosy in its description of colonialism. Were the people of the Gilbert Islands really so friendly and accommodating?

Reading the book made me interested in Vanuatu and
Problematic due to the author's position as part of the colonial system, and although he wasn't the awful version of a coloniser, he was still extremely patronising and condescending. Grimble was a British colonial officer from 1913 to the 1950s. But this book is incredible to read as he gave so much detail and evocative retelling of stories and culture from the people of Kribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands). Which is a very tiny and very remote island nation in the pacific, with so few surviv ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent insight into the culture of the Gilbertese people through the eyes of Arthur Grimble, a civil servant posted to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati) to work firstly as a district officer for the UK sovereignty, but also later as acting Resident Commissioner. Grimble offers a wonderful insight into the everyday lives of the unique Gilbertese people, offering great anecdotes about culture, language and tradition through his and his families lives on the island during his post ...more
Kate Throp
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was dreading this book, chosen for no other reason than it was the only one I could find for Kiribati in my reading around the world. What a little gem it is and how wrong I was. Yes it's British colonialism in full force but Arthur Grimble and indeed his wife just seemed to love the islands and it's people. Cracking good read.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written book about how life was supposed to be on the British Overseas Territories back in the days. Mr Grimble has a good sense of humor and doesn't take himself seriously, which are 2 very important things for me. If you want to read a story about those days, buy it and read it. Enjoy !
Ann Rahfeldt
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very readable account of the author's time(1913-1919) as a British Administrator in what was then the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The wealth of information about the life of the islanders at that time is a joy to read.
It's fun and inspiring to read about people who try alternative lifestyles. In this case a British civil service requests assignment to the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) in 1914 or so. His curiosity, his fondness for the people and the culture, and his travails make for a good read.
Tim Newey
Sep 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Personally?! - "Don't Bother", actually?!.. But, "Your Deal" for The Author's, Sake?!.. "Coffee-Shop"?!..
Michelle Teys
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Explained so much of the historical context of these magnificent people.
Mariteeta Neemia
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just need to do my research on the history of the Kiribati culture in the past, even though, I am born in Kiribati and I do love my country.
Chris Amies
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Preposterous and I don't believe half of it but set the scene for a lot of exoticist narratives about the Pacific. BTW the tale of Na Biria is a zombie story, surely?
Daniel Foster
Aug 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A charming book which gives an insight into island life on the Gilbert islands. I became interested in the islands from my mother who was born there and spent some time there as a teenager. My grandfather was the captain of a merchant ship in the pacific. At this time duriing the 50s the islands were part of the british empire. My mother has allways talked fondly of the gilbertise people and the islands.
This book is written on the experiances of a young colonial official in the early twentieth
Jan 17, 2009 rated it did not like it
Yet another book we were forced to read at school at a tender age and found incomprehensible. It was old fashioned, even in the 70s and, as a mature adult, I discovered a copy in a second hand shop. I tried, I really tried but I couldn't make it past chapter one. I think this won a national literature award when it was first published, hence it's place on the syllabus but it even put us committed readers off.
Les Dangerfield
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read about a six year British Colonial Office posting in the South Pacific between 1913 and 1919. A posting which makes the ones I've had seem very tame. The book is a mix of social anthropology and anecdotes, often amusing, about his time in the Gilbert Islands. The lack of narrative flow sometimes makes the book less motivating than it might otherwise be. However, I enjoyed it and it is a good book to finish on World Books Day!
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Grimble writes of his experience living in the Gilbert Islands. Although he wrote the book in 1952, his family had gone there in 1914 and left in 1933. The Gilbert Islands are a stone's throw from the Carolina Islands where I lived for 4 years 1966-1970. This made Grimble's stories very visual to me. He told of his family's experiences with charm never sparing the errors he made living in a culture so different from the one he grew up in.
Jun 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an English literature designated book for my Cambridge school certificate. it tells of Sir Arthur Grimble's experiences as a British colonial administrator on the Gilbert Islands, a desolate atoll in the South Pacific. His lucid and witty style makes this book unforgettable after almost half a century! A must re-read.
Gerry Campbell
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
life in the Gilbert islsnds in the early 1900's

a unique account of life in the remote Gilbert & Ellice islands as a colonial officer. Grimble had an anthropological interest about the islanders & must have been the epitome of an enlightened colonial administer, writing of his experiences with humour and humility.
« previous 1 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Around the World ...: Discussion for A Pattern of Islands 5 145 Jan 23, 2019 11:28AM  
the credibility of the 'ghosts' of the Gilbert Islanders 1 5 Dec 08, 2012 09:13AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Dog Soldiers
  • Vile Bodies
  • The Other Paris
  • The Complete Stories
  • Song of the Exile
  • Landfall
  • Four Hands
  • Wheels of Courage: How Paralyzed Veterans from World War II Invented Wheelchair Sports, Fought for Disability Rights, and Inspired a Nation
  • Winter in the Blood
  • The Decameron
  • House of Skin: Prize-Winning Stories
  • Small World
  • Nice Work
  • Changing Places
  • Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation
  • Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science
  • Hell's Angels
See similar books…

Related Articles

There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
60 likes · 18 comments