Book Review: Tupaia by Joan Druett

Tupaia

Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett, Random House, RRP $55, ISBN9781869793869, Available Now.

Random House has done a fantastic job recently of gorgeously produced, hardcover history books/objects of art (see The Great Wrong War) and they’ve continued that tradition with Tupaia. Presented in a printed hardcover, with liberal use of illustrations, and a simply beautiful design, Tupaia has instant appeal.

Fortunately, again as with The Great Wrong War, we’re also treated to an amazing historical record and a wonderful read.  Tupaia is a beautifully produced, enthralling history of a previously sidelined figure in the story of European exploration in the Pacific.

Tupaia (the man) was a Tahitian priest/politician, a skilled navigator and he joined the crew of the Endeavour at Tahiti, sailing on their circumnavigation of New Zealand and the subsequent trip up the coast of New South Wales.

Druett has clearly put a huge amount of research into not only Tupaia’s travels with the Europeans but his life previous to the European arrival, along the way providing an informative picture of local Tahitian life, politics, religion and culture.

Druett presents everything with an eye to narrative so the story never becomes dry or  boring, and she enriches the book with a thoughtful approach that builds on the research, presenting cultural theories that challenge the standard historical story that has been told again and again around Captain Cook.

It all adds up to an entertaining and illuminating read, with the bonus of a beautiful object for your shelf.