Part memoir, part travelogue, all passionate appreciation, Tales from the Torrid Zone begins in Iririki, Alexander Fraters birthplace. On this tiny island in the South Seas republic of Vanuatu, his grandfather, a Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, converted the inhabitants, his father ran the hospital and his mother built its first schoolhouse in their front garden. And it was on Iririki where, on the eve of his sixth birthday, Frater fell victim to le coup de bamboo . . . a mild form of tropical madness for which, luckily, there is no cure, and which has compelled him, again and again, to return to the seeding, breeding, buzzing, barking, fluttering, squawking, germinating, growing deep tropics.
His travels take him to nearly all of the eighty-eight countries encompassed by this remarkable, steamy swath of the world. He delves deeply into the history and politics of each nation he visits, and into the lives of the inhabitants, and of the flora and fauna. He is, at once, tourist, explorer and adventurer, as fascinated withand fascinating aboutthe quotidian as he is with the extraordinary. But certainly, he does not lack for the extraordinary: dining with the Queen of Tonga in a leper colony; making his way across tropical Africaand two civil warsin a forty-four-year-old flying boat; delivering a new church bell to a remote Oceanian island.
From Fiji to Laos, Mexico to Peru, Senegal to Uganda, Taiwan to Indonesia, Frater gives us a richly described, wonderfully anecdotal, endlessly surprising picture of this diverse, feverish, languorously beautiful worldas much a state of mind as it is a geographical phenomenon.
A Place Called Pandemonium
Some years ago I returned to my birthplace and found it had become a luxury holiday resort. Described in the brochures as Iririki, Island of Elegance and lying snugly in Port Vilas blue harbour, its forty-four acres were crowned with flowering trees and contoured like a tall polychromic hat; you could walk the shadowy path around its brim in twenty minutes. It was a comfortable spot; when the mainland sweltered, Iririki usually got sea breezes and cooling showers. Once it had contained just two houses: our mission bungalow andset in parklike grounds with a flagpole flying a bedspread-sized Union Jackthe palatial residence of the British Resident Commissioner. Now seventy-two air-conditioned accommodation units were strung across its northern end.
By the residents jetty a signpost read Old Hospital Ruins. Directed back half a century, I saw myself as the guests drifting over on parasails might see me: an ...
The reader can imagine the book being written in a warm, humid climate with the heat sapping the writer's energy so that nothing moves too quickly and both writer and reader can luxuriate in the present while reminiscing about the past.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (905 words).
Alexander Frater has contributed
to various UK publications and, as chief
travel correspondent for the Observer
newspaper, has won an unprecedented
number of British Press Travel Awards.
Miles Kington calls him 'the funniest
man who wrote for Punch since the
war'. He lives in London and whenever
time and money allow, is likely to be
found skulking deep in the hot, wet
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