Plundering (Whose) Paradise?

“We may infer from these facts, what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts of the aborigines become adapted to the stranger’s craft or power” -Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

This the theme of Michael D’orso‘s Galapagos book “Plundering Paradise” which has short description “The hand of Man on the Galapagos Islands” under the name.  It is a book about the changes of the Galapagos Islands in generations. The writer specifically looked at the impacts from “Strangers” to Galapagos’s local human society defined as “Aborigines”

D’orso passionately told the story from the eyes of a number of non-fiction Galapagos residents and visitors. The book began with the story of Jack Nielsen, the owner of half century long “Hotel Galapagos”. Then the writer started showing the reader  Galapagos islands through the eyes of Jack, his family and friends and anyone in Galapagos that the writer had a chance talking to as the end of the book listed” … the station, the Park Service, tour operators, guides, the government, the locals, the outsiders, the old-timers and the new comers…”

D’orso also added the story of Galapagos’s outside world to complement his Galapagos story. The reader can find the background of Ecuador’s politic chaos and its bumpy international relations with its neighbor countries.  These stories are surprisingly crucial components in D’orso’s Galapagos story. This clearly implies that Galapagos’s issues have not been limited in local level at all; they have been much more complicated than that.

If that is not interesting enough, D’orso has some drama-stories about how the Galapagos park service director kicked pro-illegal fishing judge out of Galapagos, the heroic story of the American captain of the first foreign flagged vessel to patrol Galapagos marine reserve and the rise of the angry local fisherman against the new central governmental “Green fisheries” rules. This makes this book a documentary book which is fun to read.

All stories are told in an unorganized way, broken down in each of the fourteen chapters. D’orso obviously spent quite amount of time in Galapagos talking to people to get enough information and conducted research (he has 16 pages references) to create the documentary style story. Although there are many characters in the book and the reader may find the story’s relationship and links confusing, through the end of the book, the reader gets to feel the changes as if he/she has lived in Galapagos village for a century.

Cunningly, D’orso successfully brings the reader deeper in each character’s past background then bring the reader back to the current time in the book where the readers observes the changes of Galapagos through the eyes of the characters naturally.

D’orso also did a good job in having each story told based on reality. Black and white are not totally separated in “Plundering Paradise”. D’orso from time to time goes back to his main character, Jack Nielsen, to have Jack give out opinions about a certain incident that has been told in that story before. Jack is a rationale man. He is the Hotel Galapagos‘s owner who happens to have seen many changes of the Galapagos islands and always “understands” things and gives two-side analysis about what is happening.

However, D’orso did not particularly try to conclude anything at the end of his book. He clearly only wanted his readers to feel the changes in the islands to the Galapagos’s human inhabitants. Whether the reader like the changes or not does not seem to be D’orso’s objective. He summarized the book well in the last chapter “…like a jewel, the Galapagos has many facets, each reflecting different brilliance, depending on the angle with which it’s held to the light.”

After all, Plundering Paradise is a book about how the new intruders have turned old peaceful Galapagos paradise into chaos, which annoyed and displeased the locals who lived quietly in these islands for generations. However, D’orso’s paradise seems to mean the place where western hippies escaped their hectic developed world to build their own sanctuary. Maybe D’orso forgot that when the first human entered Galapagos Islands, that is when the real paradise got plundered already!  And Galapagos indeed could be a paradise without humans.

If you already heard about Galapagos Islands and want to know how the islands have been changed because of time and developments or if you want to read a book about how a pleasant human sanctuary is ruined by human intruders, this is definitely a book for you. But if you are looking for a book about how the Darwin’s biodiversity treasure is ruined, you might pick the wrong one.

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