Chapter 74: “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A. Michener (1948)

“I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.”

Tales_of_the_South_Pacific_MichenerI’m not sure how I managed to let two whole months pass by without finishing another Pulitzer. I mean, I’ve been sick since October, have been in an extraordinary amount of pain, and had surgery last month (which took a few weeks to recover from)… Reading through all of my entries on this project, looking back at the situations going on in my life over the course of these novels, the last few years have certainly been rough.

The common thread, of course, is that the hardships have occurred while working through this Project. Maybe when I finish the last book on the list, all my troubles will be over.

The latest novel to be ticked off that list was James A. Michener’s 1948 novel, Tales of the South Pacific. 

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Unlike my reading partner, Joshua, I wasn’t particularly taken with this work. Don’t hear me wrong—there were, of course, a few stories that I liked. There were one or two that I really liked. As a collective whole, however, Tales of the South Pacific just didn’t do it for me.

Much like A Bell for Adano before it, Michener seems to be very focused on the drudgery of war. A lot of soldiers just kinda sitting around and waiting for something to happen. There is one story that is about the horrors of war and there are a few firefights along the way, but the overarching theme is soldiers far from home, pining for their normal civilian lives, pondering existence, battling disillusionment, and just waiting for something to happen.

The problem I have with that, though, is that doesn’t seem like an accurate summary of war. Particularly not World War II, and particularly not the Pacific theater. The Bataan death march, two atomic bombs, guerilla and chemical warfare… No, war (and this war, in particular) is horror. But Michener barely addresses that fact (when he does, though, it’s in gruesome detail—there’s a story about a group of soldiers searching for a missing soldier in an abandoned Japanese prison camp and the setting is nightmarish).

Other than that those couple of pages, though, Michener focuses all of his attention on pining, waiting, planning, strategizing, and sitting around.

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There are, however, a few positive things I can say about these stories. First and foremost, it’s obvious that Michener cares an awful lot about these characters. They are well-written, well-developed, interesting, and engaging.

Furthermore, Michener’s writing is incredibly detailed; to a fault, at times. However, his writing is inconsistent. It’s so detailed that he drones on and on and on about insignificant details that don’t move the stories along, then whizzes past the major plot points that I was very interested in (like battle sequences, etc.).

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Instagram media by cornerofthecafe - Really, James Michener? Really...?Oh, and one last thing to mention.

This (pictured to the right) is one of the most ridiculous things written in any of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels thus far.

When I read this line, my eyes rolled so far back into my head that I could see into the past.

I literally exclaimed, out loud, “Really, Michener…? REALLY!?”

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