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Just one month after his 21st birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is Just one month after his 21st birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is a thoughtful and laugh-out-loud hilarious documentation of Rudiak-Gould’s efforts to cope with daily life on Ujae as his idealistic expectations of a tropical paradise confront harsh reality. But Rudiak-Gould goes beyond the personal, interweaving his own story with fascinating political, linguistic, and ecological digressions about the Marshall Islands. Most poignant are his observations of the noticeable effect of global warming on these tiny, low-lying islands and the threat rising water levels pose to their already precarious existence. An Eat, Pray, Love as written by Paul Theroux, Surviving Paradise is a disarmingly lighthearted narrative with a substantive emotional undercurrent.  


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Just one month after his 21st birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is Just one month after his 21st birthday, Peter Rudiak-Gould moved to Ujae, a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands located 70 miles from the nearest telephone, car, store, or tourist, and 2,000 miles from the closest continent. He spent the next year there, living among its 450 inhabitants and teaching English to its schoolchildren. At first blush, Surviving Paradise is a thoughtful and laugh-out-loud hilarious documentation of Rudiak-Gould’s efforts to cope with daily life on Ujae as his idealistic expectations of a tropical paradise confront harsh reality. But Rudiak-Gould goes beyond the personal, interweaving his own story with fascinating political, linguistic, and ecological digressions about the Marshall Islands. Most poignant are his observations of the noticeable effect of global warming on these tiny, low-lying islands and the threat rising water levels pose to their already precarious existence. An Eat, Pray, Love as written by Paul Theroux, Surviving Paradise is a disarmingly lighthearted narrative with a substantive emotional undercurrent.  

30 review for Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nora

    I had such a fight with this book. Well, we fought for the first 50 pages. Peter R-G was a WorldTeach in the Marshall Islands just like me (same country, different island). He did a fantastic job explaining the ups, downs, and bizarres of the experience. At first I was angry that he is profiting off of the book, but I got over it when all of the emotions of my volunteer year were reflected nearly perfectly. *** We walked to the airstrip. I hugged my parents again; the islanders blushed again; the I had such a fight with this book. Well, we fought for the first 50 pages. Peter R-G was a WorldTeach in the Marshall Islands just like me (same country, different island). He did a fantastic job explaining the ups, downs, and bizarres of the experience. At first I was angry that he is profiting off of the book, but I got over it when all of the emotions of my volunteer year were reflected nearly perfectly. *** We walked to the airstrip. I hugged my parents again; the islanders blushed again; the children stared again. As the plane took off, the complex emotions of their visit simplified into nostalgia. I was alone again, surrounded by people (79).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Missy J

    My book club is visited the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean in March. It is an archipelago that is visible in only a few world maps, lying between Hawaii and the Philippines. Some islands of Marshall Islands were used as the site of nuclear testing by the United States of America. The USA forced/tricked natives of Bikini atoll to move to another island, so that the Americans could use their atoll for the nuclear testing. It's also where the swimwear "bikini" got its name. Up until today th My book club is visited the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean in March. It is an archipelago that is visible in only a few world maps, lying between Hawaii and the Philippines. Some islands of Marshall Islands were used as the site of nuclear testing by the United States of America. The USA forced/tricked natives of Bikini atoll to move to another island, so that the Americans could use their atoll for the nuclear testing. It's also where the swimwear "bikini" got its name. Up until today the people and the descendants of Bikini atoll are still nuclear refugees, unable to return back to their atoll and receiving annual compensation from the United States taxpayer money. The author Peter Rudiak-Gould was a volunteer of the WorldTeach organization, who visited and taught English on Ujae island for a year from 2003 to 2004. Most of the book are descriptions of his culture shock, Marshallese culture, teaching English in one of the lowest-ranking schools of the Pacific, spearfishing and general stories of his year spent on the Marshall Islands. It's a very light read and he peppers it with a lot of humor, revealing his embarrassing moments. As a reader, I enjoyed learning about the Marshall Islands through a foreigner's eye, especially because I didn't have any background knowledge. It's impressive how the author gained fluency in such a unique language that few speak and which has so many specific words and descriptions that cannot be found in English or in other European languages (words related to sailing, certain relationships, feelings...). The author is now a professor and still involved with the Marshall Islands, which he uses as his research site to study climate change and its effect on society. Only towards the end of the book does he bring up the topic of global warming and how it threatens these small islands where there are hardly any hills and where entire populations would need to be moved when the levels of the sea keep rising even higher. At first, I thought about giving this book 3 stars because some of the author's observations at the beginning of the book were too naive, but the ending of the book really saved it and bumped it up to 4 stars. The author's conclusion on how the Marshall Islands are viewed by the rest of the world and how the Marshallese people view global warming truly touched me. The quotes can be read below. Armageddon vs. hoax, this reminds me of the current coronavirus pandemic and how devastatingly slow leaders are to fight against this virus. That's what I love about reading. I can read about a completely different subject (in this case the Marshall Islands), but if the book is well written, one can always find a way to pull a lesson or two that relates to one's current situation/life. "But behind all of these reasons, I felt, was one central cause: a feeling of disempowerment, inspired by some rather obvious historical events. When you feel you can do nothing, your only options are denial and despair - and those were precisely the popular responses I had seen on Ujae. The saddest thing of all was that a sense of empowerment was what the islanders needed most in order to prepare for climate change, and climate change was exactly what would kill the last flicker of that resolve." "Now, living again in one of the culpable nations, I can see that the Marshallese are not very different from us. In our society, one side depicts global warming as Armageddon, while the other calls it a hoax. No wonder action has been so slow. In the Marshall Islands as in the industrial world, people are given both to disavowal of the problem and to hideous exaggeration of its intractability. Denial and catastrophism are a pair of apparent opposites that reinforce each other more than they oppose each other, because the worse the prognosis, the more reason to pretend the problem doesn't exist. The real battle is not between those two; it is between complacence, manifesting as either of those two extremes, and pragmatism." "These critics saw garbage piles and thought 'irreversible devastation!' when they should have thought 'solid-waste-management problem.' They saw makeshift shelters and thought 'abysmal deprivation!' when they should have thought 'housing shortage.' They mistook the country's nuclear legacy for the obliteration of an entire nation, rather than the forced migration of several hundred people and the irradiation of several hundred others. These premature obituaries were based on a kind of cynical paternalism: the assumption that the Marshallese had no ability to solve problems or adapt to change. I had done my share of criticism too, but it was hard to reconcile these dreary descriptions with my own memories of men fishing on pristine reefs and women preparing bwiro for a feast. The Marshall Islands was a flawed and struggling Third World country, not an apocalyptic wasteland. More to the point, it was a real place, not a political allegory. The country was a bit like Ralph Ellison's invisible man: time after time, outsiders defined it as the perfect exemplar of their worldview, with little interest in the thing as it actually was." "In the end, I was inclined toward a viewpoint that struck many islanders and expats as ever so slightly heretical: that the Marshall Islands were currently experiencing something of a golden age - a cozy lull in their oddly tumultuous history; a time after the imperialists had quit but before the sea had risen; when chiefly scuffles and world wards did not periodically devastate people's lives; when floods from typhoons or from global warming did not push locals to the brink; and when foreign handouts guaranteed an easy security without shattering all sense of national pride. For all of my own private discomforts and personal critiques, for all of the doomsaying of locals and visitors alike, Marshallese life strolled on with something resembling good cheer."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    The narrative in this memoir is captivating, but the analysis is stunning. I really appreciate Rudiak-Gould's willingness to acknowledge his own cultural biases and the expectations that come with them. This is thoughtful and well-written with good voice. The narrative in this memoir is captivating, but the analysis is stunning. I really appreciate Rudiak-Gould's willingness to acknowledge his own cultural biases and the expectations that come with them. This is thoughtful and well-written with good voice.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cara

    Rudiak-Gould describes the year he spent teaching English on one of the Marshall Islands. He is straightforward about the cultural conflicts he encountered there and speaks honestly about the moral quandaries, isolation, and confusion that he continued to experience long after he adjusted to the daily routines of life in his adopted community. He eventually comes to appreciate his own Westerness as well as the motivations behind the islanders' actions, but never completely escapes the grittiness Rudiak-Gould describes the year he spent teaching English on one of the Marshall Islands. He is straightforward about the cultural conflicts he encountered there and speaks honestly about the moral quandaries, isolation, and confusion that he continued to experience long after he adjusted to the daily routines of life in his adopted community. He eventually comes to appreciate his own Westerness as well as the motivations behind the islanders' actions, but never completely escapes the grittiness of the two cultures brushing up against each other. Having been in a situation similar to Rudiak-Gould's, though not nearly as extreme, I can appreciate his candidness in writing about his ongoing cultural struggle. Many accounts of cross-cultural experiences tend toward a "I saved them" or "they saved me" kind of depiction. Surviving Paradise is the best memoir I've read about the paradoxical challenges and uncomfortable truces that any guest in a completely foreign culture has to make.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mitch

    It's a rare day when I write a review that rates a book higher than its average. I'm a tough sell. There's a good reason why I'm doing so now. I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer on an island in the Caribbean. Although the author's island was much less developed and the experiences he had differed in ways, many observations he made resonated personally...and he didn't necessarily go with the accepted party lines concerning cultural integration or the value of another culture vs. his own. H It's a rare day when I write a review that rates a book higher than its average. I'm a tough sell. There's a good reason why I'm doing so now. I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer on an island in the Caribbean. Although the author's island was much less developed and the experiences he had differed in ways, many observations he made resonated personally...and he didn't necessarily go with the accepted party lines concerning cultural integration or the value of another culture vs. his own. He presented both himself and his experiences without those filters and occasionally in unflattering lights. And he couldn't WAIT to return to his Western home and ways of doing things even though he found solid value in the culture he lived in. I think I would have liked to read a bit more about his teaching experiences and what he finally thought of them. After all, teaching there was the primary reason he went and what he spent a lot of time doing. It appears it was a tough, unsatisfying experience overall, with occasional bright spots; that certainly lines up with my experiences. I also appreciate his anthropological observations and his openness to try things he had built-in aversions to. There are few unvarnished books about WorldTeach and Peace Corps experiences; I highly recommend this one.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ramarie

    I was craving a travel memoir...and this book took me to the Marshall Islands, where the author spent a year as a volunteer with World Teach. Best known as the islands where the U.S. tested nuclear bombs (specifically Bikini Atoll), the author's year there taught him as much about Marshallese culture as about the lingering influence of western culture on this small set of islands. What surprised me about the book were the thoughtful insights on Marshallese traditional culture vs. western influen I was craving a travel memoir...and this book took me to the Marshall Islands, where the author spent a year as a volunteer with World Teach. Best known as the islands where the U.S. tested nuclear bombs (specifically Bikini Atoll), the author's year there taught him as much about Marshallese culture as about the lingering influence of western culture on this small set of islands. What surprised me about the book were the thoughtful insights on Marshallese traditional culture vs. western influence...and that neither is better than the other. I wasn't surprised to find that the author went on to pursue a doctorate in anthropology. This was enjoyable armchair travel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    I was as bored reading this book as the author was on the island. I normally finish any book I start but made an exception here. There's really nothing here that hasnt already been better observed by others and better stated. I was as bored reading this book as the author was on the island. I normally finish any book I start but made an exception here. There's really nothing here that hasnt already been better observed by others and better stated.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Zorn

    I have a lot to say about this book, none of it good. I can’t believe I didn’t trust my gut and stop reading after the first chapter. Instead of posting my entire scathing review I will simply state that this book is a Colonizer’s wet dream, and it made me nauseous more often than not reading about the author’s brazen entitlement mixed with the demeaning way he discussed the islanders he cohabited with. He should be thoroughly embarrassed about this self serving, indulgent, uninspired, pathetic I have a lot to say about this book, none of it good. I can’t believe I didn’t trust my gut and stop reading after the first chapter. Instead of posting my entire scathing review I will simply state that this book is a Colonizer’s wet dream, and it made me nauseous more often than not reading about the author’s brazen entitlement mixed with the demeaning way he discussed the islanders he cohabited with. He should be thoroughly embarrassed about this self serving, indulgent, uninspired, pathetic memoir.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was a funny, level-headed read about the life of a volunteer teacher on far-flung Ujae, in the Marshall Islands, full of culture shock, amusing self-observation, and a nice dose of reality. I was grateful to the author for not trying to paint the people and the culture with the noble savage labeling I've seen in other books of this kind. By the end of the book, the author (and readers) has come to a deeper understanding of both the Marshallese culture and US culture. I think it's a great one This was a funny, level-headed read about the life of a volunteer teacher on far-flung Ujae, in the Marshall Islands, full of culture shock, amusing self-observation, and a nice dose of reality. I was grateful to the author for not trying to paint the people and the culture with the noble savage labeling I've seen in other books of this kind. By the end of the book, the author (and readers) has come to a deeper understanding of both the Marshallese culture and US culture. I think it's a great one for a bit of horizon expansion and empathy development. I will note that the author does inject his politics from time to time into this book, but just like everything else, it stands out, inviting analysis. You don't have to become like him or agree with everything he says to learn something; in fact, that's pretty much the guiding principle of everything you find here. I read this because, for reasons too complicated to explain, I've had a fascination with the Marshall Islands for a long time. I was looking for something different to read, and found this in my library's card catalog. I recommend!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    True story slash situation: Newly college graduated Dude goes to the South Pacific to teach on a remote island. The story ended up not being much about him teaching, just about his reactions and experiences with different people. At first this book started off super douche-y. Dude just wanted to go to the most remote place ever and experience it, but really, American-isms have reached everywhere and there is no escaping it anymore, but Dude made it work. Kind of an interesting read. I did like t True story slash situation: Newly college graduated Dude goes to the South Pacific to teach on a remote island. The story ended up not being much about him teaching, just about his reactions and experiences with different people. At first this book started off super douche-y. Dude just wanted to go to the most remote place ever and experience it, but really, American-isms have reached everywhere and there is no escaping it anymore, but Dude made it work. Kind of an interesting read. I did like that by the end, Dude at least appreciated America and wasn't all haten' on it, like he sort of was at the beginning and I could relate to that side of it a lot. Definitely something different, but kind of douche-y. Eh.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    Truth I was excited to stumble across this book, as I had lived in Majuro for three and a half years working as a volunteer teacher and counselor for the Catholic community. While the author took me on his personal journey, it was not so far from my own and from many other stories told to me by other volunteers arriving in this island country. In reading through the chapters, I was reminded of things I'd forgotten. Parts of his story made me laugh, parts made me sad, parts made me indignant. And Truth I was excited to stumble across this book, as I had lived in Majuro for three and a half years working as a volunteer teacher and counselor for the Catholic community. While the author took me on his personal journey, it was not so far from my own and from many other stories told to me by other volunteers arriving in this island country. In reading through the chapters, I was reminded of things I'd forgotten. Parts of his story made me laugh, parts made me sad, parts made me indignant. And other parts made me nod yes, that's so true. Accurate depiction, entertaining, and thought provoking. Makes me want to go back.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Terrie

    This was a great memoir, ethnography, and all around enjoyable read. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and with a rare insight that perhaps everything is fine just the way it is on the island.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author spent a year teaching English in a remote Island in the Marshall Islands group. The book is very well written, with lots of humor, and interesting topics

  14. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    I wanted Ujae to be my far-off paradise. Ujae wanted me to be its English teacher. So we married and we met, in that order. (10) When Rudiak-Gould reached the island where he'd spend the next year, he set out on what felt like a daunting task: to walk all the way around the island. 45 minutes later, he'd completed the task. The Marshall Islands have a population of roughly 58,000, spread over some 1,100 islands and islets. The capital city, Majuro, holds about half that population (look up pictures I wanted Ujae to be my far-off paradise. Ujae wanted me to be its English teacher. So we married and we met, in that order. (10) When Rudiak-Gould reached the island where he'd spend the next year, he set out on what felt like a daunting task: to walk all the way around the island. 45 minutes later, he'd completed the task. The Marshall Islands have a population of roughly 58,000, spread over some 1,100 islands and islets. The capital city, Majuro, holds about half that population (look up pictures of Majuro—it's the sort of long and skinny that has one major road running through it, ten miles long, with water visible on both sides), but all the islands are remote enough that...well. As a very 2020 example of how remote the Marshall Islands are, the first COVID-19 cases didn't hit the Marshall Islands until late October. As Rudiak-Gould describes it, the Marshall Islands are largely in a sort of limbo. Much of the country's income comes from US subsidies, and modern-day packaged food and the like have made the subsistence work of previous eras outdated in the Marshalls. Yet fishing and coconuts are still major parts of life, and the Marshallese are renowned for their skill with boats. Rudiak-Gould describes a weekend trip to other small islands, requiring hours in the boat, and it's striking how easily a comparison is drawn to, say, a weekend trip from city to country, in the US. The importance of the outrigger was reflected in the Marshallese language as well. A mistress could be referred to as an outrigger, kubaak, and to say that one’s outrigger had sunk meant that one had returned to a place to find that one’s previous female prospects had all been married in the meantime. (107) It must have been a disorienting year in many ways. Rudiak-Gould doesn't introduce any of the children he taught in any detail—treating them more, in the book, as a shifting throng—but he gradually built relationships with some of the adults, and he returns again and again to the complications of teaching. His students, who were roughly tweenagers could not locate the US on a map—nor could they locate the Marshall Islands. Many of the younger students could not conceive of a way of life that did not involve 'ocean side' and 'lagoon side—they'd been to Majuro, maybe, but not farther, and education in the Marshalls is lacking at best. It ends up being pretty fascinating. Rudiak-Gould makes clear from the outset that he's not there to tell tales on the people he knew, instead preferring to ask why is this cultural difference what it is and exploring from there—lets everyone be more complex characters rather than being coloured by frustration or assumption. He touches on climate change (the subtitle, hello), but keeps any real discussion of it for the end, to allow the story to unfold naturally. It's a year I struggle to imagine (island life sounds so claustrophobic in some ways), but it kept me reading. Bits and pieces: I found it pleasant that a single phrase, yokwe eok, could mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “I love you,” or “I’m sorry for you.” The following dialogue could be real: PERSON A: Iaar ba, “Yokwe eok. Ij yokwe eok,” ak lio eaar ba, “Yokwe eok.” PERSON B: Yokwe eok. It would mean: PERSON A: I said, “Hello. I love you,” but she said, “Goodbye.” PERSON B: I’m sorry. (56) A note on the US diplomatic presence in the Marshall Islands: What was sad about these counterterrorism measures wasn't their excessiveness (the total cost had run well into the millions) or their moot value (the chance of terrorism in the Marshalls was vanishingly small). It was the fact that they failed even at their stated mission. The embassy had a metal detector but the international airport didn't. The ocean-side wall extended eighteen feet underground but only ten feet above ground. The fence prevented rockets from being shot through the bars but not over the bars. (151) McDonaldization and the Marshallese no-rush philosophy had reached a compromise in a kiosk called Taco Bill’s Almost Fast Food. (I once dined there, and the advertising was not false: it was indeed almost fast.) (152) It was a touching reminder of how small and close-knit this country was that, when somebody died, the national airline changed its flight schedule to allow the relatives to fly to the funeral on time. (223)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Peter Rudiak-Gould spent his 21st year of life as a volunteer English teacher at one of the most remote islands in the world. The island of Ujae is part of the Marshall Islands inhabited by around 450 people when he was there in 2004. It is also one of the flattest islands, hence the reference to the disappearing island in the title. Rudiak-Gould does not spend any part of the book except the epilogue discussing climate change, so the title is a bit misleading. Peter initially decided to voluntee Peter Rudiak-Gould spent his 21st year of life as a volunteer English teacher at one of the most remote islands in the world. The island of Ujae is part of the Marshall Islands inhabited by around 450 people when he was there in 2004. It is also one of the flattest islands, hence the reference to the disappearing island in the title. Rudiak-Gould does not spend any part of the book except the epilogue discussing climate change, so the title is a bit misleading. Peter initially decided to volunteer for teaching at such a remote place to explore a culture out of touch with the modern world. But Ujae is remote but not primitive. They don't have electricity all the time because it takes gas to run generators and gas is expensive. They don't have grocery stores, cars, or television on the island either. But they have videos of American movies, radios that play American music, and American subsidized food supplies that bring junk food occasionally. The Marshallese people of Ujae are a mix of ancient hunter gatherer fishermen who are prone to diabetes due to the adoption of a largely western diet. They are master canoe builders who can fish, sail, and swim as proficiently as their ancestors but they also listen to American pop music and wear the same clothes as people in America. The Marshallese people are also, due to the US poisoning some of their citizens when Bikini island was used as an atomic testing ground, allowed to immigrate to the US without restriction. So many of the people Peter lived among had relatives living in the US or in the capital city of the islands. It wasn't what he expected at all. His story was fun to read because life on Ujae was very different than our lives are in the US and the Marshallese are culturally quite different. He had to learn their language since hardly any of the inhabitants spoke much English beyond rudimentary phrases. He learned to live where everyone resides on a third of a mile long island and there is little privacy. It was not what he expected but it was, in the end, an amazing 10 months that taught him as much about himself as it did about the people of Ujae.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Pletcher

    This is the story of the author who moved to Ujae in the Marshall Isands in his early 20s. He moved there with a World organization to teach English to the island children. He spent a year there with the 450 inhabitants of the island, learned the Marshallese language, and taught school. He went to a tropical island and was met with the harsh reality of the life of the people on Ujae. He tells his whole story of what it was like to teach children who didn't want to learn (and lacked discipline at This is the story of the author who moved to Ujae in the Marshall Isands in his early 20s. He moved there with a World organization to teach English to the island children. He spent a year there with the 450 inhabitants of the island, learned the Marshallese language, and taught school. He went to a tropical island and was met with the harsh reality of the life of the people on Ujae. He tells his whole story of what it was like to teach children who didn't want to learn (and lacked discipline at home that didn't involve physical abuse), live without modern conveniences (phone, car, store, even medical care) and no way to really communicate with the outside world. He also talks about everything he learned about the people who lived there - that they were all one big family who shared everything - even with a stranger like him; who were steeped in traditions but also longed for Western convenineces as well. He had a chance to stay on after a year, and chose not to. But he has returned 3 times to the island for further study since. I thought this was a great book. First - it was very well written. He tells a wonderful story about the people there, about his experiences, and what we should all learn about the state of our world and the remote parts that we very seldom see. I am so glad I found this book, and I recommend you reading it. It was really good.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Moss

    A slow start to the author's year as a volunteer with World Teach, based on one of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. He didn't cope well with his initial disappointment at a less than enthusiastic welcome, and then at the state of the school and lack of enthusiasm of his students. Even after making friends and learning the language, he often felt excluded because no one told him about major events on the island. The tone of the book becomes a bit more positive, and more informative, when A slow start to the author's year as a volunteer with World Teach, based on one of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. He didn't cope well with his initial disappointment at a less than enthusiastic welcome, and then at the state of the school and lack of enthusiasm of his students. Even after making friends and learning the language, he often felt excluded because no one told him about major events on the island. The tone of the book becomes a bit more positive, and more informative, when he describes the election campaign, and the policies of the main parties, discussing the fate of the island and people of Bikini after its use as a nuclear testing ground, and the dangers that global warming is likely to make the low, flat island of Ujea, where he was based, uninhabitable. He still found life on the isalnd "more interesting than pleasurable". After finishing the year, he returns as an anthropolgist, writing a doctoral thesis on public perceptions of climate change on the islands.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pyrz

    This was a different take on the Sex Lives of Cannibals type of tropical-island disillusionment genre - but it was just as entertaining. Unlike J. Maarten Troost's somewhat lighthearted, slightly cynical, and kava-drenched tales, this one is told from the viewpoint of a bay-area hipster who signs on to teach English (with no teaching experience) at one of the most neglected schools on one of the most remote islands of an already remote archipelago. Sounds kinda groan-inducing, huh? Actually, it' This was a different take on the Sex Lives of Cannibals type of tropical-island disillusionment genre - but it was just as entertaining. Unlike J. Maarten Troost's somewhat lighthearted, slightly cynical, and kava-drenched tales, this one is told from the viewpoint of a bay-area hipster who signs on to teach English (with no teaching experience) at one of the most neglected schools on one of the most remote islands of an already remote archipelago. Sounds kinda groan-inducing, huh? Actually, it's not - and as the book progresses you realize why things he did or thought, that at first seemed annoyingly naive or idealistic, were actually warranted. He brings you to the realization that cultures differ, societal norms differ, and it is just as reckless to try to force those norms on others as it would be for them to force theirs on you. I'm over-simplifying the message - not that this book contains a hit-you-over-the-head preachy tone... it's just that he's able to lay this out through the tales of his own experiences on the island and use those stories as a way better vehicle to get that sentiment across than I was able to in one paragraph without trying to give any spoilers away.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anneke Alnatour

    While I did enjoy Rudiak's account of his stay in the Marshall Islands, it made definitely clear that being an educated native English speaker doesn't make an English teacher. Fortunately, Rudiak recognizes this early on, and wonders multiple times why he is there, and what his being there will really mean for the inhabitants of Ujae island. And for himself. His interest in anthropology, native legends and the Marshallese language make for an interesting read. But with him, I wondered many times While I did enjoy Rudiak's account of his stay in the Marshall Islands, it made definitely clear that being an educated native English speaker doesn't make an English teacher. Fortunately, Rudiak recognizes this early on, and wonders multiple times why he is there, and what his being there will really mean for the inhabitants of Ujae island. And for himself. His interest in anthropology, native legends and the Marshallese language make for an interesting read. But with him, I wondered many times why he was there. And why we keep sending young native English speakers to all corners of the world to teach children English.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This travelogue really rang true for me. I've also spent a fair amount of time (though nowhere near that of the author) sitting around remote islands across the Pacific and I'm a fellow Bay Area native around the same age, so there were enough touchpoints where this could've gone wrong. Instead, I really enjoyed it! Gould is likable and real: sometimes he's the archetype of the cocky 20-something backpacker but he knows it, and his ability to step back and really see his interactions with the so This travelogue really rang true for me. I've also spent a fair amount of time (though nowhere near that of the author) sitting around remote islands across the Pacific and I'm a fellow Bay Area native around the same age, so there were enough touchpoints where this could've gone wrong. Instead, I really enjoyed it! Gould is likable and real: sometimes he's the archetype of the cocky 20-something backpacker but he knows it, and his ability to step back and really see his interactions with the society around him was refreshing and humorous. I also loved learning about Marshallese society.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Many, many interesting and funny insights about living in a foreign country, an island, volunteering as an English teacher. The author has the advantage of being a student of anthropology, and I could almost see him sorting through and typing up his field notes for this book. I enjoyed the book a lot.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sandy

    Surviving Paradise is one of my favorite recent reads for two reasons. First, it is downright funny at times, making me laugh out loud. I love that kind of book! The author Peter Rudiak-Gould has a great sense of timing and is a wordsmith who provides numerous laughs and chuckles throughout. Second, the book is thought-provoking. It richly explores the vast cultural differences between indigenous Pacific islanders and U.S.-ers, lending itself to interesting reflection and to conversations about Surviving Paradise is one of my favorite recent reads for two reasons. First, it is downright funny at times, making me laugh out loud. I love that kind of book! The author Peter Rudiak-Gould has a great sense of timing and is a wordsmith who provides numerous laughs and chuckles throughout. Second, the book is thought-provoking. It richly explores the vast cultural differences between indigenous Pacific islanders and U.S.-ers, lending itself to interesting reflection and to conversations about how we are and how we see ourselves in relation to others. In Surviving Paradise, the author intimately shares his experiences, failures, and successes as a Worldteach volunteer whose mission is to teach English to children on Ujae, a teeny-tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands, far from everywhere. During a year on the tropical isle, he faces psychological and emotional challenges he never imagined while he grapples with the different language, customs, attitudes, and beliefs of his host country. He frequently shares his confusion and desperation with the reader, but we also see that he persists, committing to remain on the island the entire year, not giving up. Gradually, he makes friends and is able to participate in the language and activities of the islanders. He develops a love of spearfishing, and it changes his whole way of seeing the coral reef that comprises the island. (I thought I would skip the chapter on spearfishing; it ended up being one of my favorite chapters.) In the end, Peter realizes that his judgments of the islanders are actually self-revealing; he discovers his own western cultural biases and behaviors which otherwise he’d never have known. He treasures this opportunity and the connections he makes with the Marshall Islanders. He grows to love and cherish the island Ujae.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alyce (At Home With Books)

    Peter Rudiak-Gould signed up with the WorldTeach volunteer organization and chose to spend a year teaching English in one of the most remote locations on the globe: The Marshall Islands. Not only that, but he picked one of the most remote atolls and islands in the country at which to teach: Ujae. In the first chapters he relates the many ways he experienced culture shock, from his lack of comprehension of the language, to his puzzlement with how the islanders distanced themselves from him. As he Peter Rudiak-Gould signed up with the WorldTeach volunteer organization and chose to spend a year teaching English in one of the most remote locations on the globe: The Marshall Islands. Not only that, but he picked one of the most remote atolls and islands in the country at which to teach: Ujae. In the first chapters he relates the many ways he experienced culture shock, from his lack of comprehension of the language, to his puzzlement with how the islanders distanced themselves from him. As he got to know the islanders more, he found that he admired them in some ways, yet there were also things that they did (like how they treated their children) which were quite offensive to him. He was also surprised to find that although Ujae is remote, it is not untouched by modern culture. I personally liked how he went delved into the complexities of the language, and the unique expressions that can be found in Marshallese, some of which express very complex ideas in a short word. There are a lot of fun and interesting definitions given in the book. But the linguistics is really only a small part of the book. The bulk of Surviving Paradise deals with Peter's struggles to come to terms with the differences between his culture and that of the people of Ujae. This is an enjoyable and educational memoir about The Marshall Islands, the Marshallese, and one man's attempt to learn about the people, try to fit in with them, and educate them all at the same time. It is filled entertaining stories, most of which are the kind that would make you thank God that you weren't the one in those situations, but others are filled with the beauty of the land and the people.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Since I am about to be doing the same thing with the same program in the same country as the author (teaching English with WorldTeach in the Marshall Islands), I was very interested to read this book. Although I don't know that Rudiak-Gould and I are similar in our personalities, I really appreciated his frankness in describing what life is really like on a supposedly paradisiacal little island out in the middle of the Pacific. Reading about his experiences has brushed away a lot of the romantic Since I am about to be doing the same thing with the same program in the same country as the author (teaching English with WorldTeach in the Marshall Islands), I was very interested to read this book. Although I don't know that Rudiak-Gould and I are similar in our personalities, I really appreciated his frankness in describing what life is really like on a supposedly paradisiacal little island out in the middle of the Pacific. Reading about his experiences has brushed away a lot of the romanticized notions I've acquired about what this next year will be like and I'm grateful for that, though I'm sure there are a few that I will cling on to until I actually get there and see for myself. I really liked his advice to not look at this as an "us saving them" or "them saving us" scenario. I look forward to reading it again in a year's time to see how our experiences compare, though as a woman I think mine will be noticeably different (based on the seemingly stringent gender roles in this culture). I did get a little tired of him repeatedly comparing the island where he was placed to a lover, and I wish he'd spent more than a chapter about his role as a teacher, but overall it was an entertaining and informative read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    pdarnold

    An interesting story of the year Peter taught on the island of Ujae, one of several of the Marshall islands. A story of eyes wide opened as well as preconceptions. Glaring differences of culture, parenting, goals and lifestyle. Learning to adapt and yet not give up your base soul. Learning to accept as well as trying to change things, people, ideas. Learning that one culture isn't necessarily better or more advanced than another. A life lesson about misconceptions. Many moments of snickers to ou An interesting story of the year Peter taught on the island of Ujae, one of several of the Marshall islands. A story of eyes wide opened as well as preconceptions. Glaring differences of culture, parenting, goals and lifestyle. Learning to adapt and yet not give up your base soul. Learning to accept as well as trying to change things, people, ideas. Learning that one culture isn't necessarily better or more advanced than another. A life lesson about misconceptions. Many moments of snickers to outright laughter, heartwarming as well as heart wrenching. The destructiveness or helpfulness of politics, and the part the world as a whole may have upon this tiny nation. Adventure to be sure! Set backs and triumphs. Finding acceptance and tolerance. But the true lesson here... is the lesson of humble gratefulness. May we all gain a heart like the Marshallese! One of my favorite questions a Ujae island youth asked Peter. Basically it went something like this - Your white, does that mean you poop is white? I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard when I read that!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Josie

    I selected this book for 2 reasons: 1) It counts as a book for the tricky continent of Oceania in the 666 for 2015: An Around the World Reading Challenge , and 2) I have just moved to Tarawa (which is the Majuro of Kiribati) and thought this would be an interesting book to read about island life. I also have some knowledge of Majuro as my partner flew a plane into there last month. Firstly, I have to say that I have never in my life heard Britney Spears’ song “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” un I selected this book for 2 reasons: 1) It counts as a book for the tricky continent of Oceania in the 666 for 2015: An Around the World Reading Challenge , and 2) I have just moved to Tarawa (which is the Majuro of Kiribati) and thought this would be an interesting book to read about island life. I also have some knowledge of Majuro as my partner flew a plane into there last month. Firstly, I have to say that I have never in my life heard Britney Spears’ song “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” until the day after reading about it on page 49 of this book. I was in a taxi travelling from one end of the island to the other when it came on the radio. I started laughing and could not explain myself to those sharing the taxi with me. I could draw many similarities from this book to life here in Kiribati, and because of that I enjoyed the book. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it, or it’s narrative as much had I not experienced island life myself and been able to draw these comparisons.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    This book was probably better than my rating would indicate. I think I was looking for more of a narrative and less analysis, and the parts I enjoyed were the narrative parts, like when he arrived on the islet for the first time and the days he spent visiting other islets in the same atoll with some friends. The author had some insightful things to say about the islands and his reaction to them. For example, he observes that there was a period of time during which people wanted to hear the myth t This book was probably better than my rating would indicate. I think I was looking for more of a narrative and less analysis, and the parts I enjoyed were the narrative parts, like when he arrived on the islet for the first time and the days he spent visiting other islets in the same atoll with some friends. The author had some insightful things to say about the islands and his reaction to them. For example, he observes that there was a period of time during which people wanted to hear the myth that the Europeans/Americans came to the islands and converted the people who lived there, then later wanted to hear the myth that they came to the islands and were converted by the islanders' way of life. Overall I was very taken by the book and the idea of living on a tropical island, and the book became less absorbing when the chapters were about aspects of island life rather than about how his life on the island progressed.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I enjoyed this book. I happened across it at the library and just picked it up thinking it was going to be more anecdotal than what it was. I think it's a good book though and honestly it made me think a lot about sociology and how we connect to other cultures. I especially liked how honest he was for example when taking pictures of the kids he had them stop making American gang signs with their hands so they looked more "authentic." He then talked about how they were honesty authentic when they I enjoyed this book. I happened across it at the library and just picked it up thinking it was going to be more anecdotal than what it was. I think it's a good book though and honestly it made me think a lot about sociology and how we connect to other cultures. I especially liked how honest he was for example when taking pictures of the kids he had them stop making American gang signs with their hands so they looked more "authentic." He then talked about how they were honesty authentic when they were making symbols with their hands and that sometimes we kind of force our own ideas about another culture on to those people and put them into the categories we think they should be in. I think his year was definitely an eye opener, and it was interesting how the book then kind of opened my own eyes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    This is an example of really excellent travel writing. Stylistically pleasing, spiced with moments of humor, frustration, and tenderness. The best thing about this book is the author's consistent effort to question himself while remaining true to himself. It's honest and relatable, but will still challenge those who like to romanticize and/or vilify The Other. The effort to strike that subtle balance, the struggle to accept things as they are instead of forcing our own preconceived notions onto This is an example of really excellent travel writing. Stylistically pleasing, spiced with moments of humor, frustration, and tenderness. The best thing about this book is the author's consistent effort to question himself while remaining true to himself. It's honest and relatable, but will still challenge those who like to romanticize and/or vilify The Other. The effort to strike that subtle balance, the struggle to accept things as they are instead of forcing our own preconceived notions onto them, is what really resonated with me about this book. It also presents several really important questions about environmentalism, cultural authenticity, and aid work. The epilogue felt a bit rushed and contrived, but all in all I really recommend it!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    I loaded a plethora of travel books on my kindle that I had read about in Book Lust to Go. This one is a gem. Further research reveals that the author went on to study anthropology at Oxford and to also return to the Marshall Islands to do a case study among the people he had known as a teacher. I may go my entire life and NEVER meet a native Marshall Islander, but if I do, I will have been already introduced to his/her culture superbly in this well-written book. I read once in a Smithsonian Mag I loaded a plethora of travel books on my kindle that I had read about in Book Lust to Go. This one is a gem. Further research reveals that the author went on to study anthropology at Oxford and to also return to the Marshall Islands to do a case study among the people he had known as a teacher. I may go my entire life and NEVER meet a native Marshall Islander, but if I do, I will have been already introduced to his/her culture superbly in this well-written book. I read once in a Smithsonian Magazine: The mind cannot distinguish between what is imagined and actual experience. Yet another advertisement for reading AND one of the reasons reading this book felt so expanding. That all being said, beware trash literature and meaningless romance novels...

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