Swimming with Sharks: Tales from the South Pacific Frontline

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Penguin Books, 2010 - Oceania - 256 pages
'On the last day, we flew out to Manono aboard an RNZAF Iroquois. The doors were open and the beauty of Samoa was literally beneath our feet. I have always known it to be a fragile kind of place: tsunamis, like all the other disasters, big and small, show that we have a pact with nature to enjoy 'paradise'. Sometimes nature reasserts supremacy and paradise becomes a nightmare.'

The South Pacific is in the midst of calamitous times. Even now, shops burn and people die in anti-Chinese riots in Papua New Guinea, reporters are censored in Fiji, and countries like the Solomon Islands and Tonga live in non-democratic twilight zones: one occupied by foreign powers, the other controlled by an ageing bachelor king. It is a region ravaged by ongoing tragedy, both natural and man-made.

Swimming with Sharks is roving reporter Michael Field's absorbing account of first-hand experiences within this historic unrest. Rich with anecdotes from 30 years of living and working in the region, this timely book is at once an investigation of the Pacific's recent political history, a collection of disarmingly frank, pieced-together memories, and a window into the Pacific's illusory, often indescribable way of life.

'[Swimming with Sharks] reflects the intense engagement [Field] has with the Pacific and his ability to draw together the most ridiculous and the most sublime into an interesting fusion of experiences from around the vast oceanic continent . . . with Field acting as an eye and ear for the ordinary people.'
—New Zealand Herald

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Awesome book. Not so much a good ol' yarn as a good ol' series of many many threads. At first the brief, episodic nature of the writing was a bit disturbing, but then I realised it was natural for a reporter used to filing short stories to write in short bursts. Once I'd reconciled with that, I was happy.
Field makes the Pacific accessible and understandable, including the part that it is deeply complex and actually hard to understand. One thing I've found is that since reading the book, I want to listen to his Radio NZ updates because I know the countries and the key players.
There's a lot of humour here, and also some touching stories, such as the NZ soldiers killed by the Japanese during WWII who never got a proper farewell, and the intriguing thoughts on the concept of inati (sharing) that closes off the book.
Well worth reading.
 

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