A review of the travel book Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the deep tropics by Alexander Frater (2007).
Alexander Frater was born in a missionary family in what it is today Vanuatu, so his stories are intertwined with his family’s history as missionaries and preachers in the islands. Tales from the Torrid Zone is a look at the tropics (history, geography, and ethnography) combined with a personal family history, so its depth exceeds that of other South Seas travel books (like Getting Stoned With Savages). While Fraser explores all the tropics, the book is deeply dependent on the remote islands of the South Seas. The stories can be eye-opening, like the voyage to Pentecost Island where “bungee jumping” (actually “land diving”) originated. Locals jump from rickety towers with vines tied to their legs to ensure a bountiful yam harvest, which is certainly more than scary. In a particularly bizarre story, a youth was killed (head + ground = dead) right in front of Queen Elizabeth during a 1974 visit. (Read about the strange story here) An early chapter about Dr. Patrick Manson and his turn-of-the-century research into tropical diseases is both disgusting and fascinating. For those who love travel and want to contemplate the blessings and curses of tourism on the “Torrid Zone,” the chapter “Confessions of a Beachcomber” is filled with random thoughts and observations from Cuba to Thailand to men wearing penis gourds. The historical bits are certainly more interesting than his personal stories, which can get a bit muddled. Overall, Tales from the Torrid Zone is just a bit too long and cumbersome to wade all the way through, but open it up to the right chapter and there is certainly something there worth reading.
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