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ARC Review: The Divorce Colony

The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier by April White April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota.  Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it.  Laws around divorce tended to be most lax on the frontiers of the United States. By the 1880s the territory of Dakota gained the dubious honor of posting the largest rise in divorces in the country. At the turn of the century one city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - gained a reputation for having the laxest divorce laws of all, and required only a three month residency in order to take advantage of them

ARC Review: The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania & Mutiny in the South Pacific

 

The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania & Mutiny in the South Pacific by Brandon Presser

In The Far Land travel writer Brandon Presser turns to the story of the HMS Bounty and it’s mutineers, who escaped to and settled the remote Pitcairn Island - the Far Land. The book is a dual telling of the mutineers' story, along with the author’s own present day travel tale of Pitcairn Island. 

The chapters devoted to Presser’s 2018 trip to Pitcairn are the most readable. Pitcairn is one of the remotest inhabited places in the world. Located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Australia and Cape Horn, it’s only scheduled transport is a freighter that carries supplies and passengers four times a year to the island. 

The island has only 48 full time inhabitants, all descendents of the Bounty mutineers. Pitcairn is less than 2 square miles, so Presser is able to see most of it while there.  There are no stores or hotels, given it’s remoteness, so he is a guest in a “family stay” arrangement. He splits his stay between the two family groupings (they call themselves “piles”), the Christians and the Warrens. 

While staying with the Warrens he learns that a sizable number of Bounty descendents live on Norfolk Island, almost 4000 miles away, where they were relocated by the British government in the 1850s. Later in the book he ventures to Norfolk to visit the Bounty descendents there.

Interspersed through his travel narrative are chapters covering the Bounty mutiny, the settling of Pitcairn, and the murder and mania that followed.  I didn’t enjoy these chapters as much. Done as narrative nonfiction, I found them uneven, and the writing wasn’t as inspired or engaging as in the travel chapters. Even so, any set of stories that includes “Massacre Day” as a plot point will hold your attention. 

The Bounty set out to deliver breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the Caribbean as food for slaves on British sugar plantations. The ship and it’s crew spent several months in Tahiti, and many of the men fell in love with the island and its women, and were not looking forward to the long return voyage.

The Bounty’s captain, William Bligh, was not an easy man to get along with or serve under. While the immediate cause has been lost to history, something set off his first mate Fletcher Christian on the 1789 return trip. He and a group of his fellows forced Bligh and those loyal to him into a life boat and set them adrift.

Now on the run in the Bounty, Christian and his men returned to Tahiti where some opted to stay. The rest, along with the Tahitian women they had fallen for (and a few Tahitian men) left in the Bounty. They decided to settle on Pitcairn, as it’s remoteness made it the least likely place the British Navy would find them.  Unfortunately it did not turn out to be the paradise they imagined.  

The story of the Bounty sailors and the Tahitians who settled Pitcairn, and then mostly lost themselves to alcohol, animosities and murder, has long fascinated outsiders. It’s been the basis of several books and at least three movies. 

In this book, Presser has done his research to separate fact from Hollywood fiction. It’s a worthwhile, but uneven read. I give The Far Land Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐

NOTE: I received an advanced copy from Netgalley and PublicAffairs. I am voluntarily providing this review. The book will be publicly available on March 8, 2022.




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Title: The Far Land: 200 Years of Murder, Mania & Mutiny in the South Pacific
Author: Brandon Presser
Publisher: PublicAffairs (Hatchette)
Publish Date: March 8, 2022
ISBN-13: 9781541758575
Publisher’s List Price: $30.00 (Hardcover as of 02/2022)