A Pattern of Islands, By Arthur Grimble

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The Independent Culture

You can see why these memoirs of a colonial administrator in the Gilbert & Ellice Islands were a hit in 1952. Vivid and amusing, they transport the reader to the equatorial Pacific of a century ago.

Arriving in 1914, Gimble introduced cricket ("a fighting... which makes the fighters love each other," said a chief) to these oceanic fragments where sorcery and poetry remained potent forces.

The book retains its magic in 2011 when colonialism is anathema. Gimble, as modest as he is perceptive, fell utterly in love with the islanders, learning Gilbertese, even allowing himself to be used as bait for catching giant octopus: "A dreadful sliminess with a Herculean power."

Though he was forced home by illness, the book ends with him drawn back.