Will Randall, though a high school teacher for ten years, is really just a kid--thirty-two years old, but still young in his attitudes and in his views of what life, and his own life, in particular, are all about. Unsophisticated and incurious, he has been content to let life happen to him. When his friend Charles suggests that he give up his job and go to the Solomon Islands for a year, he demurs, but Charles is an executor of the will of a man known as the Commander, who has left money for the benefit of the islanders, if someone will go there to develop a reliable industry that will provide the villagers with income they can use for community improvements. Eventually, Randall finds himself agreeing to go, not making a decision so much as just going with the flow.
Randall experiences a delayed coming of age on New Georgia Island, a process he documents in this good-humored tale, filled with delightful characters and observations about life in a community in which there is little change. Ingenuous and unambitious, he enjoys the lullaby rhythms of life in the tropics, but he eventually determines that raising chickens would both provide income and expand the limited diet of the villagers. Describing how he sets up this business, he also comments on village mores, including the cannibalism which existed until the early 20th century. He briefs the reader on the World War II history of the nearby island of Guadalcanal, retells the story of JFK and PT-109, which went down in the Solomon Islands, and describes his own personal disasters, mocking himself at one point, after he falls overboard in shark infested waters and watches as his motorized canoe continues on its way.
Far more interested in telling a story than in contemplating his inner growth or making weighty observations about what he has learned, Randall pokes fun at himself and at the one or two "villains" he encounters with the chicken-business, and he concentrates on telling amusing episodes rather than developing any deep or universally meaningful conclusions. His decision to return to England comes suddenly, with no fanfare and even less explanation, and he offers few clues about what he has learned or why he has chosen this particular time to leave.
Though the author is very entertaining, he sometimes mixes metaphors and similes into a colorful but almost incoherent jumble. At one point, he describes Honiara, the capital, as "the unsightly boil in the navel of the islands." In the next sentence, he says Honiara is "reminiscent of the cardboard set of a low-budget spaghetti Western," and describes it also as "slouching like a hungover vagrant against the foothills of Tandachehe Ridge." Despite such confusions in imagery, however, he succeeds in writing an enjoyable, good-natured, and often charming story which will amuse readers of all ages. Mary Whipple