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Serpent in Paradise Paperback – August 17, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most people know the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, how in 1789 Captain Bligh's crew mutinied then founded their paradise on Pitcairn Island. Two centuries later, the mutineers' descendants still live on Pitcairn with no cars, doctors, crime, or regular contact with the outside world, despite the hordes of paradise-seekers who deluge the island with requests, most of which are refused. After two years' persistence and 4,000 miles aboard a chemical tanker, Dea Birkett finally made her way to Pitcairn, but the island paradise has a dark legacy. Birkett's account is a fascinating look at a tight community with a notorious past and a shady present. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Birkett, an English travel author (Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers, Blackwell, 1989) and contributor to numerous magazines, became fascinated with the story of Pitcairn Island after viewing the film The Bounty (1984). Home to the descendants of the legendary mutineers of the HMAV Bounty, Pitcairn is situated 3000 miles from the nearest land in the South Pacific. It took more than two years for Birkett to get permission to visit the island, book passage on a chemical tanker, and arrange to stay with an islander. The 40 inhabitants speak Pitcairnese, a mixture of Polynesian and 18th-century English. Birkett uses Pitcairnese throughout, describing everyday life on the remote island, where everyone drives three-wheel all-terrain vehicles, has electricity only from 6 p.m. to 11 a.m., and uses a "party line" island telephone system. Whenever a ship is sighted, the bell is rung and the entire island population rushes to the jetty to launch long boats so that island produce and souvenirs can be bartered for much-needed supplies. In the end, Birkett fails to "fit" into the tightly knit community she beautifully documents. Over 200 books and five movies have told the tale of the mutiny; this one brings us up-to-date. Recommended for public and academic collections.?John Kenny, San Francisco
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books Trade Pbk. Ed edition (August 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385488718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385488716
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,474,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on September 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
Dea Birkett became obsessed with Pitcairn Island, populated with 37 descendants of the 'Mutiny on the Bounty.' It has neither phones, nor a landing strip, nor even a harbor, so just getting there was a tale of perseverance in itself. Birkett thought she was going to a tropical paradise, but after three months, she began to fear for her physical safety.
As other reviewers have pointed out, Birkett is, to put it mildly, a severely flawed person. She lied to get a visitor's permit, although her charade was so transparent, it's hard to believe she fooled anyone on Pitcairn. More serious was her habit of habitually lying and the conflict this created with Irma, her host/employer/landlady. Yet unfathomably, Birkett tells the truth about having sex with the island's sole policeman, a married man. Does she not care how this will affect his family when her book is published? Birkett is clueless about how badly she comes across to the reader.
But she is on target in revealing that this isolated island of 37 people is no paradise. She correctly discovers that violent crime is a problem, and that law enforcement is nonexistent because even the island cop is concerned about retribution from anyone he arrests. Birkett herself eventually concludes her life is in danger. It is noteworthy that in late 2001, the British government announced it was prosecuting a large component of Pitcairn's male population for the widespread practice of adult males engaging in sex with female children. The Pitcairnese do not deny the allegations, but instead claim the British are insensitive to their unique cultural practices(!). The resulting trials may very well lead to the end of this society, which now appears to have been too isolated and too tight-knit for its own good.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
I was astonished by this book. Ms. Birkett gets to Pitcairn Island by lying through her teeth, and it goes downhill from there. I can't imagine why such a xenophobic, suspicious, self-centered woman would choose to be a travel writer, of all things, but she is. Being already familiar with the whole Bounty/Pitcairn story, I can say that this taught me virtually nothing new, except why the Islanders are so reluctant to have strangers come to live with them. She seduces a married man, accuses another (in her book, not in person) of being a peeping tom (Her only evidence being that he moves quietly, and thus could have snuck up to a window and looked in), and towards the end of the book, and her stay, sinks into a paranoid fantasy that the Islanders may be out to murder her. I don't want to be rude, but Ms. Birkett has some serious problems. I'm sorry the people of Pitcairn Island had to share them. I was so amazed at this book I actually read another by her, to see what it would be like. In "Jella: A Woman at Sea", Ms. Birkett buys elephant ivory (In the 1990's), compares a crew mate to a wet rat, and nearly has a breakdown, suspecting that the crew is sending her a secret message to get off the ship in mid-ocean. The secret message? Michael Jackson's song "Beat It" is played during a party. Like I said, she's got problems.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By M. Michaels on July 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
You have probably already read the other (mostly negative) reviews, so I'll spare you an exhaustive retelling of the plot. I was astonished at the blithe way Dea lies on her application to get on to the island-she seems to relish the idea that she "pulled one over" on the natives and beat them at their own game, when it is exactly people like her that they are trying to filter out. She then spends her time on Pitcairn alternately trying too hard to fit in (thus coming across as smarmy and over-ingratiating), or else trying to recreate her Western, more liberated life through the island's few rebellious members ( and coming across as self-centered and insensitive). Her writing style is excellent-she can carry a story beautifully. What a shame then, that her teenage-level emotional maturity causes the story to fall flat. What could have been a great insight into a slowly decaying, yet rich and colorful, society is instead a nasty, "dear diary" high school tittle-tattle. It makes sense that Dea earns her living writing for women's magazines-the dirt she dishes reads just like a Cosmo Hollywood gossip column; except the Pitcairners have absolutely no recourse to Dea's book-some of them can't even read. Dea did want to become a Pitcairner-on her terms only. When the rules became too strict for her tastes (No drinking?! No bacon?! No sex with married men?!) she simply flaunts them, hoping that her "specialness" would win the islanders over. I think the author hoped that the islanders would come across as backwards, strange, and hopelessly out of it, yet I found myself developing an affection for them-especially the ones she most disliked such as tough-old-broad Royal and the sweet misguided Dennis and his doting worrisome mother. Too bad Dea is one in a long line of screwy women who come to Pitcairn hoping to recreate themselves as goddesses of paradise and instead infest the land with their own bitter unrealized dreams.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A reader on November 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is both boring and brimming with bad faith. The author, a foot-loose, thirty-something Englishwoman, develops an obsession with the remote island of Pitcairn and becomes determined to go there. She never makes clear why this is so important to her, other than a vague boredom with her life in London. She lies her way onto the island, taking money from an English organization by promising to study the Pitcairn postal system. Once there, she pretends she wants to stay forever, while never for a moment intending to do so.

Her condescension toward the island's natives, nearly all descendants of the famous mutineers from the Bounty, is infinite. She toys with their lives as if they were something less than human, noting their intense desire for privacy even as she accumulates their intimate secrets for her book. She has a "one-night stand" with a married man whose wife was away, rather than with one of the bachelors whose clumsy efforts at courtship she brushes aside. When she abruptly leaves, catching a ride on a passing ship, she arrives back home and begins telling lies again, this time denying that she's had any sexual contact while on Pitcairn.

The author comes across as a shallow, self-serving, contemptible human being. And worst of all, life on Pitcairn as she describes it is simply BORING! Curiously, there is no hint that she knew anything about the scandal that subsequently came out, about the sexual abuse of young girls by the older men of Pitcairn. No doubt it escaped her notice, along with everything else not directly concerned with her own little life. The serpent in paradise is obviously the author herself.
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