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Manoa 13.1 (2001) 203-205
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A Drink Called Paradise
A Drink Called Paradise by Terese Svoboda. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999. 128 pages, cloth $18.
Most of us know that the Marshall Islands, especially the atolls of Bikini and Eniwetok, were used as test sites for atomic and hydrogen thermonuclear weapons. Most do not know that the total yield of the sixty-six bombs detonated at the surface of these two tiny atolls was about one hundred ten megatons--equal to one hundred ten million tons of exploding dynamite, more than seven thousand times the yield of Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Radioactive fallout [End Page 204] from these blasts fell like snow over a large area of the Pacific Ocean, including several inhabited atolls. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of this, yet what images really come into our minds when we hear the name Bikini? Not images of mushroom clouds, radioactive fallout, thyroid cancer, or jellyfish babies, but sexy women on a beach, palms swaying in the breeze, pastel sunsets, and sailboats on the horizon. We picture a woman in paradise. Clare, Terese Svoboda's protagonist in A Drink Called Paradise, might remark that we picture some representation of paradise because the concept of bikini was the beneficiary of a much more effective and appealing marketing campaign than Bikini. Clare is in the ad game, searching for the perfect virgin island paradise to use as a setting to advertise a new soft drink--one called Paradise. "The drink needed an island better than where the fruit came from to shoot its ad in," says Clare.
Her determined search for paradise, we learn, is more than just Madison Avenue ambition. Clare, consciously or not, is running from a dark, wounded part of her past and hoping for the emotional escape that she believes only a paradise can provide. Her quest pushes her to the farthest parts of the world, to the atolls of the Marshalls: pristine, placid blue lagoons, swaying palms, chalk-white beaches. The first island she and her crew visit does not meet Clare's expectations, so they keep looking, Clare ultimately abandoning the crew and slipping away on a supply boat to visit one of the most remote islands on Earth: "What is one more island, one more week away by boat?" When Clare lingers too long on the island and the boat leaves without her, she comes to learn that she has indeed gone too far and that what she has been trying to escape from--that dark part of her past--is what this paradise will force her to confront.
At first, the island does not seem like such a bad place to be stranded: "a beach so white, white crayon on white paper is about right, a white that stretches--yawns and stretches--its way to the lagoon of choice, the ur-lagoon of every ad for paradise." And Clare believes that the islanders are not just humoring her when they say another boat will be coming soon, no more than another week. She is content to
float in the amber of a good time, maybe a little lonely with nobody to sigh off into the sunset with, but I collect myself, chase children who squirt me with rubber-hose creatures that grow in the shallows, burn the continental drift into my sandy thighs, cavort with snorkel and mask in the empty lagoon.
Clare has a fellow castaway, a mysterious man named Harry who may or may not be a fugitive criminal and who seeks refuge where he knows he will never be found or even looked for. He has also found the island to be paradise but in a different way: many of the women vie for his sexual attention. For Harry, whose understanding of this island is greater than Clare's, it is a paradise that comes at a very high price, one he knowingly and willingly pays. For Clare, as the days run into weeks and the islanders' promises of another boat are revealed to be lies, the...