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Review: Surviving Paradise – One Year on a Disappearing Island July 4, 2010

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books.
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I recently finished Surviving Paradise – One Year on a Disappearing Island by Peter Rudiak-Gould. Peter happens to be one of my friends from high school, and we competed together on our school’s Science Bowl team.

This book has already been thoroughly reviewed on Amazon, but I figured that I would add my two cents to the ongoing discussion.

In this book, the author focuses on the year that he spent as a volunteer English instructor for WorldTeach on the Marshall Islands. In particular, he details his adventures on Ujae Atoll, where his school was located, and in the capital city of Majuro. He methodically recounts a variety of experiences that he had on this Pacific island nation, including his struggles with teaching unruly and unmotivated students, his baptism by fire in learning how to speak Marshallese, and even his triumphs and failures in terms of spearfishing.

As noted by other reviewers, the author does an excellent job of keeping this book from being a run-of-the-mill travel narrative along the lines of “instead of me changing them, they changed me.” In particular, at several points the author notes that while he has learned a great deal from his experiences in the Marshall Islands, he retains a deep appreciation for Western culture and would not willingly surrender the privileges of being an American. The author also shows an attention to detail that figuratively transports the reader to Ujae, especially his unflattering take on Marshallese food staples including breadfruit, pandanus and bwiro. In addition, the writing is marked by a mirthful, self-deprecating tone that greatly enhances the reading experience. I had been relatively unfamiliar with the Marshall Islands before picking up this book, and the plethora of hilarity was invaluable in helping me to absorb the presented information.

My only quibble with this book concerns the subtitle. Based on the subtitle, the reader would think that the specter of global warming would loom large; instead, it only explicitly rears its head in the epilogue, which describes the author’s return to Ujae to conduct fieldwork related to his graduate studies. It would have been better to either remove the subtitle or modify it to be more consistent with the theme of the author’s initial stay on Ujae.

Overall, I would recommend this book to those who are either interested in visiting the Marshall Islands, desire to learn more about a truly fascinating island nation and/or just want to read a lively, entertaining and truly atypical travel narrative.

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