World Elsewhere: A Novel by Simon & Schuster
World Elsewhere: A Novel by Simon & Schuster
Description of World Elsewhere: A Novel by Simon & Schuster
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In this elegant, beautifully crafted novel of adventure, longing, and the corruption of paradise, internationally acclaimed critic and author Peter Brooks turns for the first time to the realm of historical fiction. World Elsewhere tells of the sea change of a young eighteenth-century French nobleman who embarks on a high-seas voyage that will alter dramatically his notions of humanity and civilization.
Based on actual historical events and contemporary diaries, the novel takes us from a Paris of gilded royalty, casual decadence, and love affairs on an odyssey to exotic lands and foreign cultures, leading eventually to the South Pacific. At the novel's center is Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen, a young captain in the French army. His name gives him entry to the best houses in Paris, but he is without a fortune and given to romantic entanglements. To flee financial embarrassment and an impending romantic scandal, Charles joins the frigate Boudeuse, under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, as it sets out on a voyage around the world -- headed first to the tip of South America and then into the open and uncharted waters of the South Pacific.
During his months at sea, Charles straggles with severe weather, a shipload of increasingly restive men, and his first challenging encounters with "primitive" peoples. But then the discovery of Tahiti brings both radical change and new challenges. Charles and his companions believe that they have stumbled upon a true earthly paradise: an island fringed with magnificent beaches, lush with exotic vegetation, inhabited by people who appear both physically and spiritually beautiful and who have put erotic love at the heart of existence.
But after an idyllic beginning to their stay on the island, the French explorers begin to sense that Tahiti may have a darker side: There are signs of bloody combat with other islands and hints of ritual human sacrifice. And after three native men are killed during a quarrel with some undisciplined French soldiers, the remaining Tahitians vanish into the mountains, leaving Charles and his shipmates fearful that the seemingly gentle islanders have now become their deadly enemies and that an attack is imminent. The sudden and frightening change in their situation brings new responsibilities for Charles as he struggles to reconcile his duties as a Frenchman and a soldier with his growing love for Ité, a young Tahitian woman. Though he becomes aware of how little he can ever hope truly to understand Tahiti, Charles begins to look for a way to stay behind when the French ships continue their voyage. Yet despite his love for Ité, he begins to see that his very presence may bring corruption to this paradise.
World Elsewhere is an enchanting fusion of adventure and romance. In the tradition of Shakespeare's The Tempest and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it poignantly explores the complex issues of European colonialism, the blurring lines between civilization and savagery, and the bewitching power of idyllic love.
In his first novel, noted literary critic and Yale professor Peter Brooks forges torrid, bare-breasted fiction out of dry historical fact. Based on actual contemporary accounts, World Elsewhere follows an impoverished French aristocrat as he voyages to the South Seas as a member of the expedition that first discovers Tahiti. Fleeing a life of civilized debauchery as well as romantic scandal and financial ruin, Prince Charles of Nassau-Siegen seeks fame and honor aboard the vessel Boudeuse. What he finds instead is a kind of earthly paradise where food falls from the trees, property is meaningless, and beautiful, golden-skinned women offer themselves as freely as the air.
The Tahitians' native grace and spiritual ease calls into question all Charles's assumptions about culture, even as he develops a rapport with a lovely island maiden named Ité. Naturally, there's trouble in paradise: Charles and his shipmates find evidence of warfare, even human sacrifice, and a scuffle with the explorers leaves three natives dead. As the Boudeuse prepares to sail, Charles must decide whether to remain with his beloved Ité or return to the land of history, property, and time.
As one might expect from a writer with Brooks's critical pedigree, the philosophical issues at stake are never far from the surface. His ship's officers, for instance, have a dismaying tendency to talk in chunks of lit-crit exposition: "'Jean-Jacques [Rousseau] isn't writing encomiums to the state of nature. It's the first, uncorrupted society that interests him,' replied Commerson." Such passages aside, Brooks spins a colorful yarn that's more than mere theoretical window-dressing. Prince Charles may be living out the quintessential male fantasy, English-professor-style, but he is a flesh-and-blood hero whose foibles convince.