Thor Heyerdahl Geoffrey Bibby - Essay

Geoffrey Bibby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Let it be said immediately that Thor Heyerdahl has pulled it off again. He has written a superb adventure-book ["The Ra Expeditions"] about a superb adventure….

Heyerdahl has lost none of his magic of phrase, and the translation renders faithfully the laconic playing-down of real danger and hard work which comes almost naturally to Norwegians. We are introduced most thoroughly to the reed boat as still existing—in Peru, Mexico, Central Africa and Ethiopia—and this section, a third of the whole book, might be tedious, were it not for the superb color illustrations, and for the circumstance that such fact-finding preliminaries are in real life necessary to the setting-up of experiments, and deserve recording by the author and attention from the reader.

Once the construction of Ra I is underway, the pace is fast enough, and the book is compelling reading as the vessel gradually approaches America and gradually falls more and more to pieces. Nor is the Ra II voyage, which ends the book, anti-climactical. On the contrary, it takes the same story onward to the final triumph as, escorted by 50 vessels of all types, Ra sailed into Bridgetown harbor.

But what does the experiment prove? Thor Heyerdahl is modest. "I still don't known," he writes…. Yet his book leaves little doubt that he firmly believes that the "bearded white men" recorded as bringing civilization to Central America came from the Mediterranean….

Geoffrey Bibby, in his review of "The Ra Expeditions," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 22, 1971, p. 21.