Mar 24, 2010


Back to Nature
by Thor Heyerdahl

This is just as wonderful as the other two Heyerdahl books I've read. It's about the year he spent on a remote island in the Marquesas, as a young man. With his new wife Liv, Thor wanted to escape modern civilization and see if he could live purely as a part of nature- no modern conveniences, little clothing, eating off the land, etc. For a while they found paradise on Fatu-Hiva where the local natives allowed them to live on a plot of land in the jungle that used to be the cultivated garden of an island king. At first their time on the island was blissful, they reveled in the natural beauty and fresh fruit, collected specimens of local insects and archeological finds for Thor's studies back home and learned about the island's cultural history from the locals. More and more Thor became convinced that the islands had been first populated by seafaring people from Peru, a theory he later tested (described in the other books).

But the blissful period did not last long. Bugs ate the very structure of their house, mosquitoes drove them crazy, and when the rainy season came sores in their legs got infected and threatened never to heal. They had to escape to a nearby island where a doctor lived to get treatment, but determined to come back. Their second stay on the island was shorter; misunderstandings with the locals plus their dread of communicable diseases rampant in the village (elephantiasis and leprosy) drove them to try living in the highlands (where there was little food) then later to cross the island to the sparsely populated east side, where they lived with an old man, the last surviving cannibal (fascinating chapter!) Eventually things went wrong there, too, and they ended up staying on a small isolated beach in a cave while waiting for a ship to pick them up off the island for good.

Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature is full of adventure, musings on the nature of man, descriptions of the island's wild beauty, speculations into the origins of its inhabitants, and thoughts on environmental issues. One of the most sobering chapters is about an island called Motane (now known as Mohotani) they visited, which had once been full of jungle but after man brought goats and then abandoned the island, the introduced animals so overran the land that they destroyed the habitat and it was reduced to bare rock, withered scrub, and starving goats. In the end, the Heyerdahls realized they could not live apart from civilization, and the fire was sparked to set Thor on his next set of adventures. Wonderful read.

More opinions at:
Riverbend Journal
anyone else?

Rating: 4/5 ........ 276 pages, 1974


  1. I admire people who take on challenges like that, but I know I could never do it. Sounds like a great story.

  2. This sounds great. I love travel books that are little out of the ordinary.

  3. Wow, that sounds like a fascinating read. I've yet to read anything by Heyerdahl, but I've got one of his books on my shelf. The title escapes me. Sounds like this particular adventure was a bit of a disaster.

  4. Kon-Tiki sits on my TBR, reproaching me for not having read it yet.

  5. Bermudaonion- I know I could never live through what they did. At some points it sounded kind of fanatical!

    Amy- Me, too. Especially when they describe the locale so well!

    Bookfool- Surprisingly, even at the end the Heyerdahl's did not regret their stay on the island, and felt like all the locals were their friends (even though they had to flee to a cave to avoid them!)

    Bybee- You should read it! I want to hear what someone else thinks of it.


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