“Take me to Fiji!” my wife often says. “Bora Bora, so peaceful, so beautiful.” Modernity certainly had a way of smoothing over the jagged edges of places once lost and perilous, shining them up to put them on display for the pleasure of an ever-shrinking world and the immense civilizatory benefits of those who have lived for too long in darkness.
For Fiji – the Polynesian islands – Tonga and Vanuatu and Hawaii and probably Easter Island were not always so. Steeped in animism and cruelty and brutality, the ancient peoples of these isolated lands lived lives barbaric and harsh. We like to forget barbarism was a thing – we who live in the post-modern world. Those who believe in subjective truth and positive law tell us that culture does not matter and that all approaches to life are of equal moral equivalence.
They should pick up a copy of “Pacific Viking”.
This novel is beautiful, and horrible. Deeply disturbing – the author, Barnaby Allen, pulls no punches as he describes early 19th century Polynesian life. Cannibalism not as an outlier but as a central tenet of culture – the tastes and the joys of eating human flesh. Brutality; as a celebration not only of the victory of one clan over another but as a pastime and even as entertainment. Rape, violence. This book is not for the faint of heart.
“Pacific Viking” is a historical fiction; about Charles Savage, probably a native of Sweden (though it is unclear) and one of the first white men to have become himself a Polynesian barbarian. Known for his violence and brutality, he adopted wholesale the actions of his hosts – Charles “went native”. The story begins with him in Uddevalla, Sweden where his early life begins in abuse and ends in murder – and takes him on a journey of exploration, of himself and his surroundings and the world which has never been kind, to the South Pacific where he finds a “home” among the tortured demons who inhabit that pre-modern world. There he dies in the only way that is consistent with the life he lived.
The novel is written by Barnaby Allen, and is his first and last work. A good writer does so to leave a bit of himself in the world, a footprint of sorts – a shadow. Good writers love their writing and the world that they are describing so much that they want to shape it. Barnaby was a good writer. And that is the first thing you notice and the last thing you take away with you upon reading “Pacific Viking”. The use of language, the epic nature of the novel, the desire to communicate location and feeling – to put the reader alongside the protagonist in experiencing the joys and sorrows. Not a simple narration of events, but an immersion. Barnaby did all this. If I were to describe “Pacific Viking”, I would probably call it a cross between “Heart of Darkness”, for its terrible horror; and “East of Eden” for the epic nature of the story as it unfolds over time and place.
Raised in Fiji and living also in Australia by a father in the British Foreign Service, Barnaby had the potential to be one of the great writers. Location, a sense of space and time, an Englishman’s command of the Queen’s language. I say had, because Barnaby Allen has passed away. “Pacific Viking” was his only novel, and its publication is the last labor of love by his wife. The world has been robbed of a great voice; and we only can dream about what could have been – should Barnaby have been gifted with longer life and we, a dozen more of his books.