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Paradise Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2001

3.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The bard of the Texas plains ventures into unfamiliar territory in this slender, entertaining travelogue of the tropical islands of the South Pacific.

McMurtry, a veteran of long car trips along the back roads of the American desert, boards a cruise ship this time around, and not without some foreboding; wandering among the Marquesas with a motley complement of international "island junkies" with whom he finds little in common, this most bookish of writers finds himself running short of reading matter, forced to slow down to the tedious pace of long-distance sea travel, and not entirely content at the turn of events. McMurtry doesn't complain: instead, he passes the time remarking on the national and personal idiosyncrasies of his fellow passengers, mostly in good humor, and reflecting on closeted family skeletons, feelings of marginality and loneliness, mortality, and other matters while observing the passing scene.

A departure in many ways, Paradise finds McMurtry in a contemplative mood. "Nowhere else," he writes, "have I felt so far," and not only geographically. There's enough local color, enough dank glens, misty mountains, and sun-dazzled beaches to satisfy armchair travel buffs, but this is a quiet, thoughtful voyage that reveals that true paradise lies close to the heart. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, memoirist, screenplay writer and bookstore owner McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, etc.) took a 1999 cruise to "paradise" Tahiti and the South Sea Islands "in order to think and write about" his parents, Hazel and Jeff McMurtry. The couple "saw the sea only once" during their 43-year marriage in Archer County, Tex., about which their son writes, "Many people like Archer County, and a few people love it, but no one would be likely to think it an earthly paradise." The lush landscape of Tahiti and neighboring islands contrasts sharply with his parents' hardscrabble North Texas life. Listening "to the gentle slosh of the Pacific" in the lagoon beneath his raised bungalow, he recalls the day in 1954, as he packed to leave for college, when his mother startled him with the revelation that she had previously been married. Aboard the Aranui, he watches his shipmates ("world-class shoppers") while making occasional attempts to phone his dying mother back in Texas. He closely observes his surroundings (the Marquesas has "an end-of-the-world feel," while the Ua Pou flea market provides "a good illustration of the reach of global capitalism and its ability to turn the whole world into a species of mall"). As his odyssey ends, he wants "to turn right around and go back to Nuku Hiva." Readers of this excellent travelogue, abounding with literary references from Henry James to Kerouac, will likely return to the book often to reread their favorite passages of McMurtry's meditative prose. Map. Agent, Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (June 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743215656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743215657
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,229,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Fans of Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen and Mr. McMurtry's many fine western novels will be very disappointed in this book.
He visits Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands in the few days before his mother dies (which seems like strange timing, since her passing was expected), and sees the area as paradise in a sad way. Obviously affected by his mother's failing health, he pretty much sticks to himself and reads books. Occasionally, he makes an observation about how beautiful tropical islands mainly vary by the extent to which "civilized" amenities have been plunked down in them. He ruminates about why people who lived there fought with one another, or became cannibals. But he doesn't really take the thinking anywhere. He is struck by the fact that the ocean surrounding a South Sea island isolates its inhabitants much like the desert does around Southwestern Indian pueblos. That's about the level of insight here. A high point is when a Polynesian woman gives him some passion fruit as an unexpected gift.
Like in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, he reflects on his parents' marriage. But he doesn't reflect on it very much. Most of that ground is covered in the earlier book.
I only kept reading the book because Mr. McMurtry is normally a fine writer, and often has interesting observations. My reward for doing so was to find out about the logistics of visiting the Marquesas, which I have been thinking about visiting. I graded the book at two for its value as a travelogue. Otherwise, I would have graded it as a one.
Some people might characterize this book as an essay on the subject of paradise. It certainly has ruminations along those lines, especially about Gauguin. But the content isn't organized as an essay.
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Format: Hardcover
If Larry McMurtry stops his autobiographical musings with this latest installment, it would be a fitting end of a trilogy: "Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen: Reflections At Sixty And Beyond" (1999), "Roads" (2000), and "Paradise" (2001). Hopefully, there will be an additional volume or two.
It is necessary to mention "Walter Benjamin" and "Roads" before getting to "Paradise". While not strictly an autobiography, "Walter Benjamin" explains something of McMurtry's upbringing, his younger days, his middle-age, and includes some family history (particularly his paternal grandparents and his father). Some of the book recalls portions of his 1968 work "In A Narrow Grave: Essays On Texas" (which contains one of the best pieces ever written about family: "Take My Saddle From The Wall: A Valediction"). "Roads" contains an abundance of opinions and reminiscings from McMurtry's life, and is combined with his 1999 thoughts as he uses America's great interstate highways to traverse the country as the great rivers were once used.
The autobiographical portion of "Paradise" includes the relationship between McMurtry's parents from their marriage in 1934 up through the death of his father (in 1977), and then onward with his mother. Intertwined with this is an early-2000 vacation to Tahiti which focuses on a cargo-cruise tour of the Marquesas Islands. The sly thing about this slight book (it is a quick read) is that one is reading a first-class travel book without even realizing it. As a bonus, the reader gets some interesting views of his fellow travelers (American, French, Belgian, German, and others), as well as some commentary on the Polynesians (past and present).
Once again, the novelist McMurtry succeeds in writing some great essay/non-fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this McMurtry book to be less than satisfying. Primarily it's a travelogue, an account of a trip he took a couple of years ago to Tahiti, the Tuamotus and Marquesas Islands. It is also in part a reflection on the lives of his parents and on the meaning of paradise. The main problem with the book is that it has a rushed-into-print feel to it. It seems in need of further editing and rewriting, as if the editors at Simon & Schuster told McMurtry, just give us your notes and we'll put the book together. There are several places where the narrative changes verb tense in mid-paragraph. There are also some passages that seem out of order, where the author makes passing reference to a subject as if it has already been broached, though it's not until later that the subject is truly introduced. Other passages have a non-sequitur quality. For instance, an interesting consideration of Milton's Paradise Lost segues abruptly to a discussion of horses and seasickness.
My other problem with the book is that I began to lose patience with McMurtry as passive observer. I wanted him to jump ship, like Melville, and really experience life in the Marquesas, rather than simply record his fleeting impressions. Well, maybe a good work of fiction will come out of his working vacation--Some Can Hula, or maybe All My Friends Are Going To Be Dinner.
All this said, I still enjoyed the book and read it straight through. McMurtry's fine mind and refreshingly non-academic erudition make everything he writes worth reading. But I do not think Paradise is on par with his other recent works of nonfiction, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, and Roads.
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