Tales of the South Pacific

Tales of the South Pacific


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Tales of the South Pacific is the iconic, Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece that inspired a Broadway classic and launched the career of James A. Michener, one of America’s most beloved storytellers. This thrilling work invites the reader to enter the exotic world of the South Pacific and luxuriate in the endless ocean, the coconut palms, the waves breaking into spray against the reefs, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes. And yet here also are the men and women caught up in the heady drama of World War II: the young Marine who falls for a beautiful Tonkinese girl; the Navy nurse whose prejudices are challenged by a French aristocrat; and all the soldiers and sailors preparing for war against the seemingly peaceful backdrop of a tropical paradise.
Praise for James A. Michener and Tales of the South Pacific
“Truly one of the most remarkable books to come out of [World War II] . . . Michener is a born storyteller.”The New York Times
“Riveting and emotional . . . Ever since James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific, the dreamers among us have been searching for our own Bali Ha’i.”The Washington Post
“Atmospheric . . . [Tales of the South Pacific marks] the beginning of Michener’s long exploration of what happens when cultures connect, or fail to.”Los Angeles Times
“Few writers changed the face of American fiction as profoundly as did James Michener.”San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812986358
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/09/2014
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 81,743
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1907

Date of Death:

October 16, 1997

Place of Death:

Austin, Texas


B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.

Read an Excerpt

I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.
But whenever I start to talk about the South Pacific, people intervene. I try to tell somebody what the steaming Hebrides were like and first thing you know I’m telling about the old Tonkinese woman who used to sell human heads. As souvenirs. For fifty dollars!
Or somebody asks me, “What was Guadalcanal actually like?” And before I can describe that godforsaken backwash of the world, I’m rambling on about the Remittance Man, who lived among the Japs and sent us radio news of their movements. That is, he sent the news until one day.
The people intervene. The old savage who wanted more than anything else in the world to jump from an airplane and float down to earth in a parachute. “Alla same big fella bird!” he used to shout, ecstatically, until one day we took him up and shoved him out. Ever afterward he walked in silence among the black men, a soul apart, like one who had discovered things best hidden from humanity.
Or I get started on the mad commander who used to get up at two o’clock in the morning and scuff barefooted over the floors of his new hut. “Carpenter! Carpenter!” he would shout into the jungle night. “There’s a rough spot over here!” And some drowsy enlisted man would shuffle from his sweating bunk and appear with sanding blocks. “See if you can get those splinters out, son,” the commander would say softly.
Take the other night up in Detroit. Some of us were waiting for a train. The air in the saloon was heavy. For more than an hour a major told us about his experiences with Patton in Africa, in Sicily, and in France. He used great phrases such as “vast deployment to the east,” “four crushing days into Palermo,” “a sweeping thrust toward the open land south of Paris,” “a gigantic pincers movement toward the heart of Von Rundstedst’s position.”
When he had won the war, he turned to me and asked, “What was it like in the Pacific?” I started to reply as honestly as I could. But somehow or other I got mixed up with that kid I knew on a rock out there. Twenty-seven months on one rock. Heat itch all the time. Half a dozen trees. Got involved in the bootlegging scandal. Helped repair a ship bound for the landing at Kuralei. And then he got a cablegram from home.
“Why, hell!” the major snorted. “Seems all he did was sit on his ass and wait.”
“That’s exactly it!” I cried, happy to find at last someone who knew what I was talking about.
“That’s a hell of a way to fight a war!” he grunted in disgust, and within the moment we had crossed the Rhine and were coursing the golden tanks down the autobahnen.
But our war was waiting. You rotted on New Caledonia waiting for Guadalcanal. Then you sweated twenty pounds away in Guadal waiting for Bougainville. There were battles, of course. But they were flaming things of the bitter moment. A blinding flash at Tulagi. A day of horror at Tarawa. An evening of terror on Kuralei. Then you relaxed and waited. And pretty soon you hated the man next to you, and you dreaded the look of a coconut tree.
I served in the South Pacific during the bitter days of ’41 through ’43. I was only a paper-work sailor, traveling from island to island, but I did get to know some of the men who actually directed the battles. There was Old Bull Halsey who had the guts to grunt out, when we were taking a pasting, “We’ll be in Tokyo by Christmas!” None of us believed him, but we felt better that we were led by men like him.
I also knew Admiral McCain in a very minor way. He was an ugly old aviator. One day he flew over Santo and pointed down at that island wilderness and said, “That’s where we’ll build our base.” And the base was built there, and millions of dollars were spent there, and everyone agrees that Santo was the best base the Navy ever built in the region. I was always mighty proud of McCain, for he was in aviation, too.
Then there was little Aubrey Fitch who fought his planes in all the battles and banged away until the Japs just had to stop coming. I knew him later. I saw Vandegrift, of the Marines, who made the landing at Guadal, and bulldog General Patch who cleaned up that island and then went on to take Southern France.
Seeing these men in their dirty clothes after long hours of work knocked out any ideas I had of heroes. None of them was ever a hero to me. It was somewhat like my introduction to Admiral Millard Kester, who led the great strike at Kuralei. I was in the head at Efate, a sort of French pissoir, when I heard a great swearing in one of the improvised booths. Out came a rear admiral with the zipper of his pants caught in his underwear. “Goddamned things. I never wanted to buy them anyway. Sold me a bill of goods.”
I laughed at his predicament. “Don’t stand there gawking. Get someone who can fix these zippers,” he snapped, only he had a lot of adjectives before the infuriating zippers. I went into the bar.
“Anybody in here fix a zipper?” I asked, and a chief machinist said he thought he could, but he was drunk and all he did was to rip the admiral’s underwear, which made me laugh again. And finally my laughing made Admiral Kester so mad that he tore off both his pants and his underwear and ripped the cloth out of the offending zipper and threw it away. Even then the zipper wouldn’t work.
So there he was in just a khaki shirt, swearing. But finally we got a machinist who wasn’t drunk, and the zipper was fixed. Then Admiral Kester put his pants back on and went into the bar. Fortunately for me, he didn’t know my name then.
There were the men from the lesser ranks. Luther Billis, with doves tattooed on his breasts. And good Dr. Benoway, a worried, friendly man. Tony Fry, of course, was known by everybody in the area after his brush with Admiral Kester. The old man saw Fry’s TBF with twelve beer bottles painted on the side.
“What in hell are those beer bottles for, Fry?” the admiral asked.
“Well, sir. This is an old job. I use it to ferry beer in,” Tony replied without batting an eyelash. “Been on twelve missions, sir!”
“Take those goddam beer bottles off,” the admiral ordered. Tony kept the old TBF, of course, and continued to haul beer in it. He was a really lovely guy.
They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge.

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Tales of the South Pacific 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is the first michener book i read and i LOOOOOVED it!!!! it's historically accurate which is nice but there's also romance and action and other fun stuff. read this for your english or history class b/c it's a 'great novel' but also a way cool story!! p.s. not just an adult book--i'm a teenager and i liked it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I admit it, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book at all if I hadn't seen the Rogers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific. But it really does give you an excellent POV of the American fighting team on the islands of the Pacific Ocean. And the love stories are wonderful, almost as gripping as they are on the screen. Plus, it's a GREAT book to read to impress English and History teachers.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the musical, but the storyline in the book was definitely more intense.
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this in Maui. He published it in 1946 after which it became the basis for the musical. There are a myriad of great characters but the overall theme prevails as the gem within this work. Michener shares the other side of World War II. Forget the Longest Day. These men spent the longest years waiting... and waiting. Most to return to boring lives or die in places soon to be unknown. I picture this as what my grandfather lived in New Caledonia.
tloeffler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I could probably recite the entire musical by heart, but I'd never read the book. A great group of stories about the Pacific War, fictional (I assume) but based on Michener's observations in the South Seas during WWII. Michener has a wonderful way with a story, but the best thing about these stories is that they aren't just about war, but about people in the war. There is much more of a sense of these being ordinary men and women thrown into something they had no idea about, and although there are battle stories, it's the human part of the stories that make them so readable. My favorite? The very last, "A Cemetery on Hoga Point." Puts a lot in perspective. Fabulous book. If you've never read it, you should.
seoulful on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best-written novels of WWII by a master story-teller. Although written in short story form, all are linked, leading up to and culminating in the invasion of a South Pacific island. Great dialogue, characterization, description, and insight into the mind of soldiers in an alien culture, cut off from home and family. Michener was a Lt. Cmdr. assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian and writes from his notes and impressions taken during the war.
Kelberts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen the musical like most people, so I had no expectations about the story. It is a collection of loosely connected stories where some characters reappear, and you're never quite sure who the narrator is other than an eyewitness if not active participant to the events. You do come away with a good sense of the people, culture and geography of the South Pacific overlayed with the story of American boys at war. I think the story would have been more absorbing as a single tale.
BogartFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like most of Michener's stuff, it's pretty detailed, takes a while to get through, but is ultimately worth it, like a heavy piece of cake. Short stories about the Pacific in WWII, which start out as apparently random, then sort of meld in the end, an early example of what people are now calling "hypercinema". Pretty good time-killer.
tbar79 More than 1 year ago
The work of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Michener and his lovely wife in the early 1960's during a political rally in Bucks county Pa. I have read many of his books and I wonder why this was the last one I have read. I guess the movie just took its place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favourite book on war in  the pacific by the greatest writer . It will always be one of the greatest book ever  written!
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Betsy96 More than 1 year ago
I read this book as part of a book club selection. My dad had been a Seabee in the South Pacific during WWII and I had listened to many stories about his service on the same Islands Michener wrote about. As I read the book, I was thrilled to hear about the same places my dad had been. The tales prompted me to pull out a box of my dad's old pics (my dad's been gone since 1991). I found all kinds of interesting pictures of my dad on the Islands that Michener describes so well. (My dad's writings on the back of the pictures talk about life on "the rock" and actually included stamps of the navy "censor" that Michener included in his story!) The book was a joy to read, even if it didn't bring back wonderful thoughts of my dad! I wish I had read the book while may dad was alive, so I could have shared it with him! I loved Michener's style and found myself laughing out loud at many of his stories. It made me view my dad, my husband (Vietnam) and my son (Iraq) from a different perspective. Michener truly knew his subject matter! GREAT, GREAT book! I would never have read this book, if the book club had not selected it! I am thankful for our book club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago