Summary and book reviews of Tales from the Torrid Zone by Alexander Frater

Tales from the Torrid Zone

Travels in the Deep Tropics

by Alexander Frater

Tales from the Torrid Zone
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2008, 400 pages

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Book Summary

From one of the most celebrated travel writers at work today—a vibrantly observant, witty, utterly captivating account of a lifetime’s worth of travel between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Part memoir, part travelogue, all passionate appreciation, Tales from the Torrid Zone begins in Iririki, Alexander Frater’s 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 with—and fascinating about—the 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 Africa—and two civil wars—in 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 world—as 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 Vila’s 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 and—set in parklike grounds with a flagpole flying a bedspread-sized Union Jack—the palatial residence of the British Resident Commissioner. Now seventy-two air-conditioned accommodation units were strung across its northern end.

By the resident’s 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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (542 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Times - Ann Geracimos

Alexander Frater's Tales from the Torrid Zone is a book to treasure on many levels. The wealth of knowledge revealed on its pages scientific, sociological, geographical, linguistic and more plus the astounding mix of characters and incidents, should put this volume at the top of any list for those interested in making a thorough exploration of the author's special world .... Be prepared to be fascinated and frustrated.

Boston Globe - Barbara Fisher

Ranging broadly over this vast area [of the tropics], Frater tells tall tales, gives lessons in history, politics, and economics, and recounts his personal adventures. This world is literally teeming with natural wonders, local characters, and wild stories . . . Entertaining.

The New York Times - William Grimes

Mr. Frater, a genial tour guide and a stylish writer, makes excellent company.

The New York Times Book Review - Christopher Benfey

Part memoir, part travel yarn, a hymn to the solar lands where people ‘wear their shadows like shoes’ . . . Frater adopts a tropical profusion of language to match his teeming subject, writing with gusto . . . He’s bracingly willing to take verbal as well as physical risks [but] some of the best things in the book are quieter, more lyrical moments . . . Wide-ranging . . . Impressive.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. [A]n outstanding memoir.

Library Journal

In this beautifully written book, Frater examines people and places from a detached perspective, but his thoughts and conversations reveal the torrid zone on a very personal level. The reader can almost feel the stifling wet heat.

The Guardian (UK) - Sara Wheeler

The prose style is breezy and chatty, but Frater could have worked harder at weeding out the clichés. Wearing his journalist's hat he produces "never a dull moment", "the island's fate was sealed", and so on. But he has a distinctive voice, the most essential weapon in the travel writer's arsenal, and he deploys it to express something universal.

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Beyond the Book

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 tropics.


Quick Tropical Facts:

  • The tropics are the geographic region of the Earth centered on the equator and limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the ...

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