Thursday, November 18, 2010

Death in the South Pacific

Tati Salmon
I don’t know how many other writers do this, but I tend to write my books out of sequence. If I get stuck on one chapter, I jump ahead or go back to another part of the story. Obviously, this is only possible if you have planned out the entire narrative in advance – which is another of my deeply ingrained habits.
For Children of Eden, I have a detailed chapter by chapter summary of how the story will unfold, and within the bounds of that blueprint I go back and forwards as I please. Anything to keep my momentum going. At the moment, I am writing the penultimate chapter of the book. It’s a brief and shocking episode in Tahiti’s history. Here’s a taste:  

"Within days of the war in Europe coming to end, an unimaginable tragedy struck Tahiti. On 16th November 1918, a steamer arrived in Papeete harbor carrying several passengers who were gravely ill with the Spanish flu which had already ravaged the United States and Europe. This strain of the flu was very contagious and highly lethal.  A rapidly escalating infection choked the lungs with blood and was usually fatal within 24 to 48 hours.
Three weeks after the steamer’s arrival, 10 percent of the 12,000 Tahitians were dead, and this figure went up to 20 percent by the end of the epidemic – 2,400 people. The deaths came so fast that bodies had to be stacked and burned in funeral pyres on the shore. The dead were wrapped up in the mats on which they’d expired and thrown onto trucks which took them – limbs and hanks of hair hanging over the sides - to the pyres, which burned day and night. Some houses were torched with bodies of whole families still inside. Carried by the wind from the mountains, the acrid smoke from these open-air cemeteries could be smelled by people on ships as far as 50 miles out at sea.
There were only two doctors on the island, and the limited supply of medicine was depleted almost immediately. The island authorities sent repeated urgent cablegrams to the French and American governments and the Red Cross, but the worldwide nature of the epidemic meant that no medicines or doctors could be spared. There were several British and American destroyers in the South Pacific, but they were under orders not to dock for fear of contagion.
The first week of December 1918 was the most lethal, both for the island and for the Salmons. Manihinihi succumbed to the flu on 2nd December, only three short years after her long-awaited wedding to Norman Brander, thus bringing to a tragic end the family’s most unusual love story. And only three days later, the flu claimed both her brother, the genial and gentle patriarch Tati Salmon, and his 40-year-old son, Tauraa."


  1. How terrible--like the Black Death in the middle ages. You are so awesome.

  2. Thanks for the image of the "limbs and hanks of hair hanging"! I think this is the first time I read of passage from this book : thanks for sharing!

  3. There's plenty more where that came from - the rest isn't nearly as gruesome, I promise!

  4. who is the man in the picture?

  5. That's Tati Salmon - the man who died of the flu on the same day as his son. Sorry, I should have captioned the picture. I will do so now. Fiona