Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Typee by Herman Melville

If only physical books themselves could talk.  I encountered Typee while back-packing in Copenhagen in a hippy yoga hostel.  It's customary for backpackers to pick up books here and there and drop them off when completed.  I must have read this work for awhile because I don't remember giving it away until I met a woman from New Zealand (and South Africa), living in London... in southern Italy.  This book traveled to more countries than most people did - and who knows where it ends up after London!

Like typical Melville style, this information is purely tangental.  I should really discuss the story of Typee, briefly... as it's been quite some time since I perused the pages. 


Typee is the real-life, non-fictional account of Melville's habitation with savages in the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia.  He was on a trading boat, which he felt would NEVER stop it's journey on the seas, so he decided to leave with a fellow sailor (Tom) on an island in the Marquesas during a stop at a friendly French port (the island being partially occupied by the French).  After running out of food while in hiding, they both decided to risk the cannibalistic 'savages'.  After a time, Tom leaves to get help for Melville when he falls ill... but never returns.  At the time of publication of Typee, no one yet knows what happened to Tom... and we only find out from Melville in a follow-up publication.

Marquesas Islands
I won't give away any details about what happens to Melville, but you already know that somehow he lives to tell this story as well as his infamous Moby-Dick.  Melville details many aspects of the Typee, the name for a specific islander tribe, in great detail.  It is a fascinating account of a man that finds himself held captive by cannibals.  Melville is happy, depressed and frightened as he learns more and more about the native tribe and you feel like you are right there with him.  For the most part, he tries to partake in their customs without too much of his own influence... but it is evident that he's not as open to try new things as some would be - but I can't blame him for not having his face tattooed! 


While not the epic work of literature that Moby-Dick was, I enjoyed this work more for its simple pleasures.  The prose was simple and to the point, the detail was very strong at times but did not feel heavy-handed and you really felt the characters come alive.  All in all, a very good first work by Melville, in my opinion. 

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