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Slow Boats Home Paperback – 20 Jul 2011


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About the Author

Gavin Young (1929-2001) was a journalist, writer, and briefly a member of MI6. As a journalist, he was most associated with the Observer, being in the words of Mark Frankland's obituary 'a star foreign correspondent'. When disenchantment with journalism set in he turned to the writing of books. The two most famous ones are Slow Boats to China and its sequel Slow Boats Home. He himself had a particular affection for two later books In Search of Conrad (winner of the Thomas Cook Book Award) and A Wavering Grace. These and Beyond Lion Rock, From Sea to Shining Sea, Return to the Marshes and Worlds Apart are all being reissued in Faber Finds.


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Amazon.com: HASH(0x91183a08) out of 5 stars 1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9157b7f8) out of 5 stars "The term 'Savage' is, I conceive, often misapplied." 5 Jun. 2011
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the sequel to "Slow Boats to China". In that book, British journalist Gavin Young wrote about a leisurely trip by sea, hopping from vessel to vessel, from Europe to China. In my review of it, I called "Slow Boats to China" a minor classic of travel literature. SLOW BOATS HOME is not quite as fine as its predecessor, but it still is a charming and very companionable book. In it, Young writes about the trip he took by sea (mostly) in 1982 from China to England. After a side trip to Shanghai, he sailed from Hong Kong, through Melanesia and Polynesia, across the Pacific to Chile, down to "the end of the earth" (Cape Horn Island), and then (after flying across the Atlantic due to disruptions in sea traffic occasioned by the Falklands War) from Cape Town, South Africa to Plymouth, England. By my count, Young sailed on a total of eighteen vessels, most of them cargo ships of various sizes.

Three features of SLOW BOATS HOME stand out. First, Young integrates into his tale apt and engaging writings from earlier literary travelers, such as Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson (whose house Vailima and grave in Western Samoa he visits), Somerset Maugham, Herman Melville (inspired by his visit to the valley of Typee), and Charles Darwin. Second, the book has more than its fair share of anecdotes and commentary relating to the places visited. Of particular interest in this regard, Young reports and reflects on the differing fates of the indigenous peoples he encounters across the Pacific - from Papuans, to Tongans, to Fijians, to Samoans, to Marquesans (who now exist in "pure" form only in the paintings of Paul Gaugin). Third, and foremost, is Young's capacity to make friends with so many of the people he encounters, whether they be fellow passengers like the two Chinese men he sailed with to Shanghai who then invited him into their modest homes and asked him to be godfather to their first-born, the large and boisterous Samoan family with whom he lived for a week in their one-room house roofed with sugar leaves and palm fronds, or the Chilean military personnel on Cape Horn Island who as a farewell present gave him the wind-tattered Chilean flag that had been flying at their station.

The only real drawback to the book is that it is now over a quarter-century old. Nonetheless, if you like literate and leisurely travel writing, you almost certainly will enjoy SLOW BOATS HOME.

P.S.: I borrowed the title of this review from an excerpt from "Typee" by Herman Melville, which Gavin Young quite appropriately uses as an epigraph to Part Two of this book:
"The term `Savage' is, I conceive, often misapplied, and indeed, when I consider the vices, cruelties, and enormities of every kind that spring up in the tainted atmosphere of a feverish civilisation, I am inclined to think that so far as the relative wickedness of the parties is concerned, four or five Marquesan Islanders sent to the United States as Missionaries might be quite as useful as an equal number of Americans despatched to the Islands in a similar capacity."

P.P.S.: I bought my copy of SLOW BOATS HOME -- first edition published by Random House, hard-cover, in excellent condition -- on the secondary market and on-line for $8.00. There really is no need to pay more if you do a little shopping.
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