Review of Lost Paradise by Kathy Marks
Rating *** 1/2
In 1790 a group of disgruntled sailors took control of a ship from their authoritative captain. The captain and his supporters were set adrift in a long boat with minimal supplies. The mutineers then sailed the southern Pacific in search of a safe harbor. A few of the men decided to take refuge on the island of Tahiti. The remaining mutineers took sail again and ended up taking refuge on the small island of Pitcairn. Along with the mutineers were a number of women from Tahiti and also a few male natives. Once they got safely ashore, the mutineers burned the ship. They did so in order to avoid detection from passing ships. But the act also sealed their fate. For better or worse they were now stranded on the island. This is the story of what happened to the descendants of the original mutineers and how it eventually led to a society where the raping of young girls became accepted social behavior.
My best recollection of the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty is from the movie The Bounty starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. It's a great movie if you haven't seen it. That movie didn't go into detail about what happened to the men who ended up on Pitcarin island. I vaguely remember there being a few paragraphs superimposed over the end credits describing the chaos that later ensued. I always thought it was a fascinating story. The whole idea of being stranded on a deserted island with a group of beautiful women. The real story of what happened, however, is not so glamorous. Few of the women who went to Pitcarin went along willingly. The Tahiti natives were basically treated as servants and sexual slaves. Eventually the Polynesian men rebelled and in one day a number of the mutineers were killed, including Fletcher Christian. Ten years after setting foot on Pitcarin only one of the original fifteen mutineers remained.
This is a true life Lord of The Flies tale. It is a story of what can happen in a closed society where there is no law or social conscience. With a limited supply of women and no real risk of punishment, the men on the island took advantage of their dominance and routinely raped girls as young as nine. It all came to light when one of the victims revealed her story to an outsider who was visiting the island. Thus began a long multi-year process where a number of men were brought to trial for the alleged rapes.
This is an interesting story and the author does a good job of telling it in a fair and balanced manner. She did so under great pressure from the Pitcarin descendants who feel that the whole thing was blown out of proportion. The real strength of this book is in the final few chapters where the author sits back and analyzes what took place from all viewpoints. Here is what the author has to say about the story after the trials have ended:
"It was a social laboratory, but a real one–the site of a unique experiment thrown up by a confluence of historical events. Put fifteen men, twelve women, and a baby on a rock, leave them alone for 200 years, then take off the lid. We already know the results were ugly, but were they inevitable? Would a different set of people, placed in the same circumstances, have acted the same way? Or were there, on Pitcairin, exceptional factors that helped determine this particular outcome?"
The author then goes on to tell several stories of people who found themselves in a similar situation as the mutineers but who did not end up in chaos and abuse.
The story slows a little as the trials drag on, but I would certainly recommend the book. My next book is going to be The Bounty: The True Story of The Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander. I want to read more about those first ten years on Pitcarin.