THE LONG VOYAGE BACK TO PARADISE; (1) NIGHT & DAY (2) Green Was the Earth on the Seventh Day by Thor Heyerdahl Little, Brown [Pounds Sterling]18.99

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN MASTERS

This is not strictly an autobiography, for it offers no traditional narrative of the writer's life from earliest memories to the present day. It is both less and more than that. Less, because it covers but one year, albeit a year of extraordinary adventure, when Heyerdahl and his bride exiled themselves, in their twenties, on the remote island of Fatu-Hiva, just below the equator. It was long before the Kon-Tiki expedition made him one of the most famous explorers of the 20th Century.

And more, because it identifies the experiences which caused him to become that explorer and to reflect on the nature of life from a position, at the very midst of it, in which none of us is ever likely to find himself. For that reason alone, these reflections must command respect.

It is the book of a romantic and I do not use the word in its fashionably derogatory sense. The young Heyerdahl, son of a pious father and atheist mother, was in awe of Nature and its astonishing, resplendent, ultimately inexplicable harmony. Nature was his church, and he longed to escape urban life in Norway to immerse himself in her rich embrace.

Having found Liv, a young woman ready to be as intrepid as himself, and with whom he practised forest walks in bare feet to prepare themselves for jungle life, they set off for the South Seas, thousands of miles from any continent, and were abandoned with their luggage on a totally deserted beach. Their first home together was a tent in a jungle valley, where no other human voice but theirs competed with the crackle, hoots and shouts of the creatures around them.

It ought to have been terrifying. Three different colonies of ants in their bed, a giant spider clinging to Liv's foot and clouds of mosquitoes swirling around their heads were hardly conducive to comfort.

But Heyerdahl, with utter conviction, states that `we felt happiness like sunshine inside ourselves'. They were `bewitched' by everything they saw and his descriptions of scenery so beautiful that it `seemed impossible', where `Nature itself had exaggerated', permits us to be `bewitched' at one remove.

He says they felt `united in a common pulsation' and for the first time in their lives, were moved to express gratitude towards a plant as they observed the endless cycle of regeneration which transformed a beheaded stump into fresh growth and new fruit.

Heyerdahl's unquenchable sense of wonder gives this book a rare charm. Two pages devoted to the tiny but purposeful stages by which a small spider fashions his web, then covers it with stickiness and finally hides in wait with his foot attached to an elastic strand which will alert him to the presence of his prey, are lovingly written. …