Author Andrew Rayner writes that his book Reach for Paradise, a journey among the Pacific Islands, just crept up on him. When he set sail on a trip around the world it was to last three years maximum, then he would return home to build some form of pension for himself. The three years segwayed into eight and his experience begged to be communicated. There seemed to be a need for an entertaining travel book that conveyed the remarkable spirit of the island people. Just as the various Polynesian languages are quite different from one another but have a common root, so too the islands as a whole have a sort of unified magic in spite of their remarkable differences. The furthest reaches of the Pacific, sheltered by a lack of resources and insulated by time and distance, are quite unlike any other region of our globe. Paradise is a horribly abused word, but there’s no better label for the islands, imaginary or real.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that the first love, the first sunrise, and the first South Sea island are memories apart and touch a virginity of sense. James Norman Hall added, “And so are the tenth or the fifteenth island. The purity of perception is not lost by repetition of the experience. There is a magic about these islands that is time-defying.” Andrew Rayner calls them “fragments of perfection”.
The area covered in Rayner’s book excludes the cosmopolitan islands of New Zealand, Japan, and Hawaii. What’s left are some 10,000 lesser known islands and Reach For Paradise is a celebration of those islands rather than a sailors’ handbook. It’s a personal story, as all proper travel stories are. The context begins with the destruction following the arrival of the first Europeans, colonization, further disruption during the Pacific War, and eventual independence. Key themes to understanding it all are custom, tradition, the canoe, life without modern gadgets, dancing, music, generosity, and beauty. Reach For Paradise is a fun read, regardless of whether the reader ever intends to venture into the Pacific, although the book may inspire just that.