Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lost Paradise by Kathy Marks

Lost Paradise: From Mutiny on the Bounty to a Modern-Day Legacy of Sexual Mayhem, the Dark Secrets of Pitcairn Island Revealed by Kathy Marks is fascinating, above all else. Marks, one of only six journalists allowed onto Pitcairn during the course of the trials, manages to tow a fine line between giving information without sinking into salacious details, for which I must commend her. It would have been easy to sensationalize a story which, because of its history and content, lends itself to being a sensation. Just around the new millennia, a young girl, who was born and raised on Pitcairn, tells an outsider that she has been sexually violated. This one confession spirals in a seeming endless web of victim and perpetrator and more and more women step forward, recalling episodes of molestation and rape from up to thirty years prior. The men, of course, deny everything and even the mothers come to the defense of the men, suggesting that this is a cultural norm and that British laws do not apply under the circumstances. The fascinating issue underlying the situation is that the community is small, around fifty people altogether, and the interconnectedness within the community results in a nearly total breakdown of family ties. The investigation cut off any incidents that occurred prior to 1960. Nevertheless three generations of men were accused so it was not unlikely for one woman, victim or not, to find her father/spouse/sibling/son accused of rape. (One woman actually had all three generations accused from father to husband to more than one son!) To try to comprehend what happened and why is impossible. How the cycle of abuse perpetuated can be easily guessed and Marks does a wonderful job of implying without drawing any adamant conclusions. Because Pitcairn’s population is mostly made up of the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty, there is a certain romance that diffuses the whole island culture. Frankly, most of that “romance” is Hollywood glamour. The true history behind the settlement is not nearly as pretty as the movies make it but when have old classic movies ever not idealized history to some degree? The conclusion to this explosive story has yet to be written as the events are far too recent to be fully analyzed. The conviction and punishment of the men responsible for the abuse is unsatisfying, too lenient by any definition of the word. But the most surprising moment for me came in the final chapter where one of the victims, having returned to the island to live, describes how she is ostracized and even hated by the other citizens of the island. She is quoted by Marks as saying, “There are locations here which, when I drive past, there’s still a sense of foreboding about them. But I don’t feel any resentment or hate towards any of those men. The hate that people here are trying to dump on me, I feel sorry for them. Once you let it go, it’s so much easier.” (287) As remarkable as the rest of this story may be, for me the words of this survivor ring louder and more beautifully than anything else.

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