Roland Sawyer

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

[Kon-Tiki] is a mystery story—although there is no crime beyond the polite defiance of "sound advice," no plot except a problem of long-distance transport by raft, no solution to an ethnological question that has intrigued men since Magellan, Querios, and Cook explored the Pacific Ocean. Here, too, is an adventure story—for it is an extraordinary record of men drifting 4,000 miles on the sea amidst unforeseen perils, under a world of stars. And here is fine descriptive writing.

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Thor Heyerdahl sought evidence to support a theory. That seeking brought about as remarkable a journey as the 20th century has witnessed. It will be a rare reader who will be able to put the book down once he has read beyond the first page. For the author opens his exciting narrative midway through the 101-day odyssey of six men on a raft in the Pacific. And once aboard that raft, even for a few safe paragraphs, the reader can no more get off than could Heyerdahl and his companions, from the moment they were set adrift off the Peruvian coast until they were flung, raft and men, over the Raroia reef to safety in Polynesia….

Heyerdahl and his men were fortunate from beginning to end—but they deserved to be, as the log of the Kon-Tiki, the name given to the raft from a pre-Columbian sun-god, shows. It is from the log that this book is largely written, and while this is not the first time that a log has been turned into literature, it has seldom been done so superbly.

The book is cast in terms of men-against-the-sea, which gives it a general rather than particular appeal…. Not being a specialist, this reviewer cannot attempt to discuss the thesis itself—that aboriginal Americans, not Asiatics, settled Polynesia. Heyerdahl's seamanship proves this could have been done, and his archaeological deductions would seem to leave a challenger in a difficult position. Certainly the book will impel renewed research into the mystery of the origin of the people of the many islands, Polynesians.

It will do so not only because of the feat it records, but because Heyerdahl is both a fascinating and a philosophical narrator. Here is an epic of our own time, at least the equal of Bligh's journey by open boat in the 18th century. When that statement is measured against the famous sailing feats of the Polynesians themselves, no more can be said.

Roland Sawyer, "An Epic for Our Time," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1950 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), September 7, 1950, p. 22.

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