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Return to Paradise: Stories Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Over its brooding surface immense winds swept back and forth, whipping the waters into towering waves that crashed down upon the world’s seacoasts, tearing away rocks and eroding the land. In its dark bosom, strange life was beginning to form, minute at first, then gradually of a structure now lost even to memory. Upon its farthest reaches birds with enormous wings came to rest, and then flew on.
Agitated by a moon stronger then than now, immense tides ripped across this tremendous ocean, keeping it in a state of torment. Since no great amounts of sand had yet been built, the waters where they reached shore were universally dark, black as night and fearful.
Scores of millions of years before man had risen from the shores of the ocean to perceive its grandeur and to venture forth upon its turbulent waves, this eternal sea existed, larger than any other of the earth’s features, vaster than the sister oceans combined, wild, terrifying in its immensity and imperative in its universal role.
How utterly vast it was! How its surges modified the very balance of the earth! How completely lonely it was, hidden in the darkness of night or burning in the dazzling power of a younger sun than ours.
At recurring intervals the ocean grew cold. Ice piled up along its extremities, and so pulled vast amounts of water from the sea, so that the wandering shoreline of the continents sometimes jutted miles farther out than before. Then, for a hundred thousand years, the ceaseless ocean would tear at the exposed shelf of the continents, grinding rocks into sand and incubating new life.
Later, the fantastic accumulations of ice would melt, setting cold waters free to join the heaving ocean, and the coasts of the continents would lie submerged. Now the restless energy of the sea deposited upon the ocean bed layers of silt and skeletons and salt. For a million years the ocean would build soil, and then the ice would return; the waters would draw away; and the land would lie exposed. Winds from the north and south would howl across the empty seas and lash stupendous waves upon the shattering shore. Thus the ocean continued its alternate building and tearing down.
Master of life, guardian of the shorelines, regulator of temperatures and heaving sculptor of mountains, the great ocean existed.
Millions upon millions of years before man had risen upon earth, the central areas of this tremendous ocean were empty, and where famous islands now exist nothing rose above the rolling waves. Of course, crude forms of life sometimes moved through the deep, but for the most part the central ocean was marked only by enormous waves that arose at the command of moon and wind. Dark, dark, they swept the surface of the empty sea, falling only upon themselves terrible and puissant and lonely.
Then one day, at the bottom of the deep ocean, along a line running two thousand miles from northwest to southeast, a rupture appeared in the basalt rock that formed the ocean’s bed. Some great fracture of the earth’s basic structure had occurred, and from it began to ooze a white-hot, liquid rock. As it escaped from its internal prison, it came into contact with the ocean’s wet and heavy body. Instantly, the rock exploded, sending aloft through the 19,000 feet of ocean that pressed down upon it columns of released steam.
Upward, upward, for nearly four miles they climbed, those agitated bubbles of air, until at last upon the surface of the sea they broke loose and formed a cloud. In that instant, the ocean signaled that a new island was building. In time it might grow to become an infinitesimal speck of land that would mark the great central void. No human beings then existed to celebrate the event. Perhaps some weird and vanished flying thing spied the escaping steam and swooped down to inspect it; more likely the roots of this future island were born in darkness and great waves and brooding nothingness.
For nearly forty million years, an extent of time so vast that it is meaningless, only the ocean knew that an island was building in its bosom, for no land had yet appeared above the surface of the sea. For nearly forty million years, from that extensive rupture in the ocean floor, small amounts of liquid rock seeped out, each forcing its way up through what had escaped before, each contributing some small portion to the accumulation that was building on the floor of the sea. Sometimes a thousand years, or ten thousand, would silently pass before any new eruption of material would take place. At other times gigantic pressures would accumulate beneath the rupture and with unimaginable violence rush through the existing apertures, throwing clouds of steam miles above the surface of the ocean. Waves would be generated which would circle the globe and crash upon themselves as they collided twelve thousand miles away. Such an explosion, indescribable in its fury, might in the end raise the height of the subocean island a foot.
But for the most part, the slow constant seepage of molten rock was not violently dramatic. Layer upon layer of the earth’s vital core would creep out, hiss horribly at the cold sea water, and then slide down the sides of the little mountains that were forming. Building was most sure when the liquid rock did not explode into minute ashy fragments, but cascaded viscously down the sides of the mountains, for this bound together what had gone before, and established a base for what was to come.
How long ago this building took place, how infinitely long ago! For nearly forty million years the first island struggled in the bosom of the sea, endeavoring to be born as observable land. For nearly forty million submerged years its subterranean volcano hissed and coughed and belched and spewed forth rock, but it remained nevertheless hidden beneath the dark waters of the restless sea, to whom it was an insignificant irritation, a small climbing pretentious thing of no consequence.
And then one day, at the northwest end of the subocean rupture, an eruption of liquid rock occurred that was different from any others that had preceded. It threw forth the same kind of rock, with the same violence, and through the same vents in the earth’s core. But this time what was thrown forth reached the surface of the sea. There was a tremendous explosion as the liquid rock struck water and air together. Clouds of steam rose miles into the air. Ash fell hissing upon the heaving waves. Detonations shattered the air for a moment and then echoed away in the immensity of the empty wastes.
But rock had at last been deposited above the surface of the sea. An island—visible were there but eyes to see, tangible were there fingers to feel—had risen from the deep.
The human mind, looking back upon this event—particularly if the owner of the mind has once stepped upon that island—is likely to accord it more significance than it merits. Land was finally born, yes. The forty million years of effort were finally crowned by the emergence of a pile of rocks no larger than a man’s body, that is true. But the event was actually of no lasting significance, for in the long history of the ocean many such piles had momentarily broken the surface and then subsided, forbidden and forgotten. The only thing significant about the initial appearance of this first island along the slanting crack was the fact that it held on and grew. Stubbornly, inch by painful inch, it grew. In fact, it was the uncertainty and agony of its growth that were significant.
The chance emergence of the island was nothing. Remember this. Its emergence was nothing. But its persistence and patient accumulation of stature were everything. Only by relentless effort did it establish its right to exist. For the first ten thousand years after its tentative emergence, the little pile of rock in the dead, vast center of the sea fluctuated between life and death like a thing struck by evil. Sometimes molten lava would rise through the internal channels and erupt from a vent only a few inches above the waves. Tons upon tons of material would gush forth and hiss madly as it fell back into the ocean. Some, fortunately, would cling to the newborn island, building it sturdily many feet into the air, and in that time it might seem as if the island were indeed secure.
Then from the south, where storms breed in the senseless deep, a mighty wave would form and rush across the world. Its coming would be visible from afar, and in gigantic, tumbling, whistling, screaming power it would fall upon the little accumulation of rocks and pass madly on.
For the next ten thousand years there would be no visible island, yet under the waves, always ready to spring back to life, there would rest this huge mountain tip, rising 19,000 feet from the floor of the ocean, and when a new series of volcanic thrusts tore through the vents, the mountain would patiently build itself aloft for another try. Exploding, hissing, and spewing forth ash, the great mountain would writhe in convulsions. It would pierce the waves. Its island would be born again. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
“This is a book that should be read by everyone. . . . All who have seen the South Pacific will find on every page the odors of frangipani, copra, blood, and beer.”—The New York Times
“There’s drama and pathos and adventure and humanity . . . and a very high degree of excellence. Michener can write.”—Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B00H6JHM6S
- Publisher : The Dial Press; Reprint edition (March 18, 2014)
- Publication date : March 18, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 2423 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 425 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #41,250 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Most of the essays are not only readable but provide essential background information for the fictional short stories. All but two, that is. The essays on New Zealand and Australia are unbearable abominations. Yet the stories that follow, which rely upon those essays for their crispness and assumptions, are two of the best in the book, especially "Until They Sail," the story of four New Zealand sisters who strike up romances with American troops during World War II.
Still, it is the stories of the tropical South Pacific I most like. The stories about Tahiti and Polynesia, the Marquesas, Guadalcanal, the Solomons, Fiji. "Povenaaa's Daughter" and "The Mynah Birds" will last with me for quite some time. One final note worth remarking, each and every story ends with a sharp, shocking twist. You quickly come to expect them, and, for that reason, they lose their punch, although never their shock.
These two works of Michener, Tales of the South Pacific and Return to Paradise, for me, are his best works. They show the writer at his freshest, before he became a living corporation for producing bestsellers (not that the later works do not have merit--Michener was a master storyteller at every stage of his career). But it is the stories of the South Seas and America's presence in the Pacific during and right after World War II that I most appreciate. Readers will always be able to revisit the books and stories on the South Pacific and get something new out of them. I'm not sure the same can be said for the enormous epics that followed.
I an a white male - and I cringe reading some of Micheners’s passages they are so white male
centric. The stories do not age well. The author is progressive, but wow! Fuji was especially painful to read.
I think the main benefit of reading this book is to understand the times it was written. Reading this book you will have a better idea of 1950s race relations. Many of the books passages deal with race, as that is what Michener likes to write about, and these sections seem dated and not introspective as a white mans superiority was just taken for granted -even by a progressive author.
All of Michener's work is top notch and this work is as good as his other pieces. If you are a Michener fan, you will not be disappointed. As always, it was very educational while being entertaining.
I highly recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Michener or a fan of historical fiction.
Each chapter is about a different Island. Each chapter begins with all the details mr. Michener knows about the island. Then he follows that narration with a fictional short story using fictional characters living on the island. But, the book is not just a series of short stories, it does include a wealth of information and history about each island and how the islands have developed different characters who live there.
You may not like all of the fictional characters in the book, or their philosophies, but, you should enjoy the book, as I did.
Top reviews from other countries
James Michener knew it well. Not (as it was to me) as a single homogeneous place, but he understood the quirks and characteristics of individual islands. He spent time there during WW2, from which he drew on his experiences to write Tales of the South Pacific, on which was based the Rogers & Hammerstein musical. Return to Paradise was written a couple of years later, after Michener spent a year visiting islands in peace-time and getting to know people. As in his first book, his characters are larger than life whilst still being utterly believable. The South Pacific itself is ever-present, a character in its own right. And here, the fiction is interspersed with factual descriptions of various islands, with offerings on the different problems they faced. Not quite as good as my memory of Tales, but still a very good read.
Michener is well-known for his tolerant views on race and culture, and yet here he seem less than respectful in referring to The Japs. Had his war-time experiences left this one prejudice? Apparently not. Many years later he married a Japanese.
Some of the views expressed back in the 1940's might now seem old-fashioned, even obsolete. But he writes of The Pacific not as an ocean but as a highway between the Americas and Asia. And along that highway will pass traffic – in both directions. It is up to the politicians and people on both sides of the highway whether that traffic conveys goods and ideas, or mistrust and weapons. That seems very relevant today.
A book you can put down anytime but it always tempts you to pick it up again. Probably of special interest for those who know or who have served in the area.