Transit of Venus
Transit of Venus
Julian Evans journeys ever deeper into a world of gin-clear lagoons, palms and sand, in search of both remnants of the fabulous kingdoms of the nineteenth-century European imagination – fed by an abundance of fruits, fish and guilt-free sex – and their twentieth century reality. Ever since Captain Cook first went to Tahiti in 1769 to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, the Pacific has offered this promise of Paradise, shadowed by a darker underbelly.
With humour and honesty, Evans uncovers the modern reality: a brave new ocean where the islanders have money and booze, military coups and cold-war politics, but where, in the remotest atolls, beyond all our modernity and rationality, the old dreams continue to assert themselves.
‘Far and away the best book about the Pacific of our times’ - Norman Lewis
‘The best modern travelogue about the Pacific’ - Lonely Planet
Transit of Venus: Travels in the Pacific
Format: 276pp demi pb
Place: Pacific Islands
Julian Evans grew up on Australia’s east coast and in the south London suburbs in the 1960s. In 1990 he left his job in London to island-hop across the Pacific Ocean by ship, small plane and boat, a journey that ended five months later at a US nuclear-missile test range at Kwajalein atoll. The book that resulted, Transit of Venus, has been described as “far and away the best book about the Pacific of our times”. Eland Press are reissuing Transit of Venus with a new afterword on 24 October 2014.
His latest book is Semi-Invisible Man: the Life of Norman Lewis (Jonathan Cape, Picador).
He has also written and presented radio and television documentaries and writes for English and French newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Prospect, Times Literary Supplementand L’Atelier du Roman. He translates from French and German and is a recipient of the Prix du Rayonnement de la Langue Française from the Académie Française. He is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He lives in Bristol and London with the artist Natasha Dikaya and their two children.
Preface by Norman Lewis
TRANSIT OF VENUS is about a journey to the islands of the Pacific to discover what happened to their captivating inhabitants of old.
Julian Evans’s travels lasted five months. He had read all the old accounts of the great navigators who first saw them, including that of Captain Bligh of the Bounty who wrote: ‘I left these happy islanders with much distress, for the utmost affection, regard and good fellowship was among us during our stay.’ We know that the mutiny that overtook him was through the desertion of his sailors, who asked no more than to be allowed to spend the rest of their lives in Tahiti.
Evans clearly nourished hopes that something of this island grace and charm might have survived in some remote corner of this vast archipelago. It was a rose-coloured misconception that fades rapidly when his travels begin. He takes advice in his search for an uncorrupted corner of Eden and is directed to Tarawa, a remote atoll in the Gilbert Islands, described by a contact who has sailed the Pacific for fifteen years as the most primitive place he has ever seen. Nevertheless, Tarawa possesses an hotel in which the author is lodged in an insanitary room, and on returning to it without warning surprises the chambermaid watching a porn video. Tarawa also has a Paradise Club where he is entertained by fourteen-year-old dancers. ‘Any one you want, you say,’ his host tells him invitingly.
The terrible fate that has overtaken the Pacific since the days of Cook reaches its conclusion in the Marshall Islands, scene of sixty-four atomic tests, in which the islands of Bikini and Enewetak were vaporised after the distribution of their reluctant inhabitants around neighbouring islands.
Evans manages to wangle a visit to Kwajalein – used by the US Army as a transcontinental firing range – on which US personnel are accommodated in 250 stainless steel trailers. There is virtually nothing to do, and after a few days of this he finds himself joining the rest to watch the video commercials in the supermarket. People fight boredom by eating enormously, and for size, he says, would have trampled a Sumo wrestler underfoot.