When I first read Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon Tiki” and then James Michener’s “Hawaii” long ago, I was fascinated by the stories of the supposedly primitive Polynesian peoples navigating the Pacific Ocean and settling on islands in that vast expanse, without the aid of any instrumentation. A new book has just emerged, “Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia” by Christina Thompson, that continues explorations into the mysteries that have always surrounded these seafarers. The author’s interest stems from her husband’s Maori ancestry, and she includes enough family, cultural history, and science-maps, diaries, geology, weather patterns-to lift anyone’s spirits out of mud season and over the high seas!
Nuruddin Farah’s book, “North of Dawn”, also deals with exploration and family and cultural history but in a far different setting. Mugdi and Gacalo immigrated from Somalia to Norway many years ago and made a comfortable life for themselves, within a circle of family and friends of Scandinavian, Somalian, and Muslim backgrounds. That life is shattered when their son is killed as a jihadist suicide bomber back in Somalia, and his wife and children move to Norway, per his final wish. As the children happily explore life under a democratic government and turn to their grandparents for support and love, their mother retreats into Islamist extremism. Despite the cultural and religious differences, I lost myself in what is essentially a familiar story of people’s struggles-unexpected tragedy, solace, sadness, and the gradual, positive rebuilding of a changed family. To say I was profoundly moved is an understatement.