Tales of the South Pacific

TalesOfSouthPacificSuggested by Brad Nelson • Men and women are caught up in the drama of World War II: the young Marine who falls for a beautiful Tonkinese girl; the Navy nurse whose prejudices are challenged by a French aristocrat; and all the soldiers and sailors preparing for war against the backdrop of a tropical paradise.
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15 Responses to Tales of the South Pacific

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This Pulitzer Prize winner is the basis for Rodger and Hammerstein’s musical, “South Pacific.” This is a variety of tales, presumably a composite of things Michener observed while serving in the South Pacific during WWII.

    It’s a series of often lightly interconnected short stories. It’s easy to pick up and put down. I’m about halfway through this, and it’s been a delight to read.

    And assuming that Michener has mixed in authentic historical details, you learn what is was like to live on those various islands at the time. My favorite so far is about a phenomenon (I forget the term he used) of going “stir crazy” on these relative small rocks. Both comic and tragic hi-jinx ensue from the boredom.

    Although this received a Pulitzer Prize, it’s hardly stuffy fiction. It’s a breeze to read.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I have heard the film “South Pacific” was made on the island of Tioman, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. For those living in Singapore, it was, and I suppose still is, a popular destination for weekend trips. I used to drive by the boats which would take you there when visiting Kuantan.

    H.M.S. Repulse and H.M.S. Prince of Wales were sunk north of Tioman not far from Kuantan.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I have probably a complete collection of Michener (including Our Presidential Lottery, which is political non-fiction and probably the first thing I read by him, though I had probably already seen Hawaii and maybe South Pacific; my mother had read Hawaii and commented on the differences, and I have the soundtrack to South Pacific), but haven’t gotten around to reading this.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Isn’t “Hawaii” one fat mother of a book? I think a lot of his books are pretty thick.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Of course, Hawaii goes back to the islands’ formation, jsut as Centennial goes back to the Mesozoic. Most of them aren’t quite so long in their timespans, though the books remain useful as doorstops.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m approaching the end of this book. And, if anything, it’s getting better. I can highly recommend this.

    It also prompted me to watch the movie, “South Pacific,” with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This is also well worth watching. They turn Cable into a composite character. But it works.

    You have to listen hard to find Mitzi Gaynor’s objection to marrying Rossano “Some Enchanted Evening” Brazzi. It’s spelled out much clearer in the book. Gaynor’s character is from Arkansas (although she doesn’t have a hint of an accent in the movie). And various South Pacific tribes or types are okay, even admirable. But she couldn’t marry a man who had once been married to (or had children with) an ennwerd (Polynesian, if I remember correctly). And I don’t know how she parses the difference between these island groups, but presumably someone already has. And one of them is an ennwerd.

    In the book, the relationship between Cable and Bloody Mary’s daughter, Liat, is much more super-charged with passion (but still a mostly PG-13 passion). And the reason that Cable won’t marry Liat are a bit more complex and spelled out. In the movie it’s just one line “I can’t marry you” without any explanation. A bit of a dud. But if you read the book first, you can fill in the blanks and sort of skip over those plot holes and the lack of character development.

    The songs are terrific. Which reminds me of a good knock-knock joke:

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    Sam and Janet.

    Sam and Janet who?

    Sam—and—Janet evening…

    And that song is the highlight of the film, for sure. Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian) is good as Billis…who I think becomes another composite character. The book itself is made up of several slightly connected short stories. Juanita Hall is a G-rated version of NC-17 Bloody Mary. But even in the book her f-bombs are euphemistically written as “you so-and-so.” But you get the point. And she doesn’t have those ugly red stains around her mouth and on her teeth as she does in the book (thus “Bloody” Mary). But for a family-oriented musical, that’s fine. It all works. No need to be any edgier.

    But the book is certainly grittier. I had seen bits and pieces of this movie through the years, but mostly as a child, and usually in the background while I was playing or something. It would come on TV once in a while and my parents would always tune in. I can take or leave the heavy-handed color filtering that is scattered throughout. If they had just toned it down by half, it would have worked better. But now it is what it is for the ages.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Given the presence of a significant number of Americans in a small island with at least one long-term French resident, one would think the likeliest location is somewhere in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). This would make the natives Melanesians.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I looked up the relevant passage in the book:

        Emile De Becque, not satisfied with Javanese and Tonkinese women, had also lived with a Polynesian. A nigger! To Nellie’s tutored mind any person living or dead who was not white or yellow was a nigger. And beyond that no words could go! Her entire Arkansas upbringing made it impossible for her to deny the teachings of her youth. Emile De Becque had lived with the nigger. He had nigger children. If she married him, they would be her step-daughters.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Interestingly, Michener had a Japanese wife.

          He wrote somewhere that excepting blacks, Southerns were very accepting of non-whites. As I recall, he thought this might be because Southerners over-compensated so as to show that they really weren’t racists.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I don’t know Michener’s provenance as a historical writer. I think “Tales of the South Pacific” is a fun read. But I have no idea if the general historical setting is accurate. It doesn’t seem particularly slanted. But I have no idea.

            So I have no idea if Arkansans parsed race like it says in this book. I have no idea. And both in the book and the movie, it’s completely unbelievable because this woman doesn’t show a trace of bigotry. So although it’s an entertaining book, it has its flaws. This theme isn’t developed much. But I suspect that is likely because Michener really didn’t want to get stuck in the quagmire of that sort of thing. He was keeping the book somewhat light and breezy, even while it is set in a battlefield.

            He also had the art of suggesting rather than being explicit. And the sections telling of Cable and Liat are all the more passionate because of this. Hell, I had to look up a word to confirm what he was trying to suggest regarding their first intimate encounter. (She had never known a man before, that is.) It was much sexier with most of it being left to the imagination, although I’m not sure that mindset exists much anymore.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Most of Michener’s books (certainly the doorstop ones) had a long historical sweep, and as far as I can tell they’re reasonably accurate, though not on the details of their fictional locations and people.

              Incidentally, Hawaii has a scene in which a Hawaiian native, talking to a wealthy tourist (this is set post-World War II), points out that the most popular religion among his fellow Polynesians is Mormonism. Only whites could go to Heaven — but God would convert them to whites after they died, so that was all right. But he added that the one thing he wouldn’t want to be was a “nigger”.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I wonder how many people have demanded that Tales of the South Pacific be removed from libraries for that atrocious language, just as they do with Huckleberry Finn.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I would suspect that this book would have troubles from the PC police. And remember, it’s only the religious zealots on the right who are for book banning. Just remember that.

            My older brother and I were just talking about that subject today. He says he doubts that “Blazing Saddles” could or would be made today. I had to agree and recounted the Jerry Seinfeld, and some other comedians, no longer perform on college campuses because of the PC police there.

            But remember what your college professors and all the smart people taught you: It’s only the Christian religious zealots who are for banning books. Just remember that. Always remember that. Mustn’t forget that.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished this book the other day and still highly recommend it. But the ending was a little unspectacular. The last chapter is about landing on a Jap-held island. But it’s not written particularly personally. And that style worked for the rest of the book. This is about a bunch of men far away from home in hostile circumstances (climate and Japs) and the somewhat businesslike tone Michener sets seems appropriate.

    But when it come to the landing on the Jap island, his style didn’t work well. It seemed like too much of an overview than a person, engaging story. A lot of facts and events are thrown at you that don’t mean that much. And as much as I recommend this book, I doubt I’ll read another Michener novel. He does seem to have a style that doesn’t delve too deep. But if you read just one of his, you could do worse than this one.

    I’ve next started Herman Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny.” It has a lot more backstory on Keefer (played by Fred MacMurray in the movie). So far so good.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      In addition to The Caine Mutiny itself, there’s also The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, a play based on that portion of the book. I’ve read both, and have seen the movie of the first and a TV performance of the second. When I was in high school, one fellow member of the chess team was reading the play, and gushed that he wanted to be a Navy lawyer.

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