Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Beach of Falesa | R.L. Stevenson

Due to the unfortunately fast paced environment at Christmas time, I like to read a lot of short-stories. The thinking is, since I'm all over the place I may not have time to read full novels until the Christmas holiday officially starts. As such, I've put off reading "Crime and Punishment", the next book in our book club.

As you know, I've been reading quite a bit of Hemingway short-stories, but I decided to take a short break from them. Browsing one of my many book shelves, I came across some short-stories by Robert Louis Stevenson. The book's main draw is "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which I've read twice. I've also read the first two short stories entitled "The Bottle Imp" and "Markheim", although I do not recall their plot lines.

The third story in this Reader's Digest version is "The Beach of Falesa" which is a 71 page narrative of a south sea trader. Mr. Whiltshire is an Englishman who comes to the island of Falesa, in order to trade with the natives. He arrives at the island and is told by a fellow sea trader, Case, that he should find a native wife. Instinctively, he chooses Uma and is wed the following day.

However, none of the natives will trade with Mr. Whiltshire, and he has no idea why as he doesn't speak the native tongue. Case translates for him, during a meeting with the village elders and finds out that he is "tabooed" - essentially tied to the devil in the minds of the natives. We later learn that the reason he is "tabooed" is due to his new wife, Uma. Case has withheld this information in translation; as it turns out, his approval of the marriage to Uma was a Machiavellian way to eliminate the competition of another trader.

A missionary then comes to the island, and details Case's dark history on the island. In the end, it is up to Mr. Whiltshire to deal with Case...

This was an interesting short-story, and illuminated the strengths and magic of Stevenson which is simply, to tell compelling stories. The language is sometimes tough, especially with the poor use of an island dialect, but overall the story flows very well for prose from the late 1800's. There are no moments of transcendent thought, but the adventure more than makes up for this fact. It is no secret to me why Stevenson's work has withstood the test of time, with children and adults alike.

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