Saturday, December 26, 2009

Surviving Paradise

Publisher's Summary. ust one month after his 21st birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is a thoughtful and laugh-out-loud hilarious documentation of Rudiak-Gould’s efforts to cope with daily life on Ujae as his idealistic expectations of a tropical paradise confront harsh reality. But Rudiak-Gould goes beyond the personal, interweaving his own story with fascinating political, linguistic, and ecological digressions about the Marshall Islands. Most poignant are his observations of the noticeable effect of global warming on these tiny, low-lying islands and the threat rising water levels pose to their already precarious existence. An Eat, Pray, Love as written by Paul Theroux, Surviving Paradise is a disarmingly lighthearted narrative with a substantive emotional undercurrent.

Peter Rudiak-Gould is currently pursuing a doctorate in anthropology at Oxford, focusing on Marshallese understandings of global warming and sea level rise. In the summer of 2007, he interviewed the President of the Marshall Islands regarding the effects of climate change. Proficient in Marshallese, the native language of the Marshall Islands, he is the author of the language textbook used by the WorldTeach volunteer organization as its official language manual for the Marshall Islands program.

Review. When Peter Rudiak-Gould decamps to Ujae Island, of the Marshall Islands, South Pacific, to teach English for a year he learns the limits and the bounties of residing on a remote island “paradise.” According to the author, Ujae is a third of a square mile in size and populated by approximately 450 citizens.

In Surviving Paradise Rudiak-Gould summarizes the book as:

"My portrait of one Marshall Island at the turn of the twenty-first century, and how it felt to live alone in this alien culture on a remote speck of land at a rather tender age – how it was just like a rocky first romance, complete with infatuation and disillusionment."

Still later Rudiak-Gould confesses, “I wanted Ujae to be my far-off paradise. Ujae wanted me to be its English teacher. So we married and we met, in that order.”

It soon becomes clear to the author that Ujae is no Fantasy Island. While the author notes that he found great pleasure in "the unrushed friendliness, the fishing and chatting and lore, but many of the values and practices . . . [upset him] with unrelenting intensity. The pains of children, always and everywhere seen, but never addressed; the school’s black hole of apathy; the tacit neglect of what appeared to [be] . . . obvious and fixable problems . . . ."

Surviving Paradise is a thoughtful account of a Westerner living the reality of life on a remote tropical island.

Publisher: Union Square Press; 1 edition (November 3, 2009), 256 pages.
Advance Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.

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