The Dark River

by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
[Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $2.50]
SUCCESSFUL collaboration is not a literary trick, built of such simple matters as the fact that one man writes good dialogue and the other has a feeling for plot. It is an adventure of the utmost dual intimacy, and must of necessity spring from the fact that the collaborators share identical tastes, identical sentiments, even identical sentimentalities.
Nordhoff and Hall, whose fame and success as collaborators are one of the bright excitements of the modern world of books, both live in Tahiti. Not because they have to; not because one of them insists on it and the other is thus forced to be there in order to work; they both live there because they both love that gentle, bland, far-distant world. And, loving it, they have poured their collaborated affections into The Dark Diver.
For the real heroine of the book is the Islands. The look of them, their weather, the shy, strange birds, the slack of water over coral barriers, and the terrific break of combers pounding mercilessly in the fury of tropical storms, make the characters incidental. The people in the story are so deeply colored, changed, and motivated by the place in which their lives are cast that they themselves seem part of the land and water, inseparable from their setting.
The plot is naïve to the point of banality, the dialogue too often wooden and dull. As a story The Dark Diver gives the reader a curious effect of time: 1900. If it were to be read for story alone, boredom would fall on the reader at about page 25. But the book is Tahiti, and Tahiti calls the tune. Clear, quiet joy, and dark sorrow moving like water, and the tragedy of death before life has begun, are not emotions to set in penthouse apartments. Naia, the sixteen-year-old child of English parents, adopted at birth by a Tahitian mother, is Wordsworth’s Lucy, ‘This child I to myself will take. She shall be mine, and I will make a lady of my own.’ You must believe in Naia, in her marriage with Alan Hardie, in their shipwrecked three-year honeymoon, in her brother George, and in their accumulated tragedies, and you must not inquire too sharply into their reality. Indeed, you cannot, unless you yourself live in Tahiti. Perhaps Tahiti is actually the lost land of man’s innocency.
The authors plainly believe it so. And the fervor of their belief communicates itself to their readers. They have crowded into the pages of The Dark River every scent and sound, every legend, every look of sky and tree, which they have found in the South Seas. What Samoa and its natives were to R. L. S., the Islands and the Islanders are to Nordhoff and Hall. The book is a portrait of their beloved. Just as, in another mood, they gave their readers Bligh of the Bounty, here they have drawn a land so vividly as to impart a permanent, wistful knowledge of it to the hopelessly untraveled, an inescapable conviction that somewhere below the fifteenth parallel paradise exists.
FRANCES WOODWARD