What an extraordinary book! This is the second book I've read by this author and I really enjoyed both for the inventiveness of the stories and characters we get to know and care about.
This novel is set on a equatorial island belonging to Australia. It begins with a beautiful description of its volcanic inception and the uncomplicated lives of its inhabitants until....One by one missionaries from all denominations invade the island.
Amen, the first, is seen as harmless, more like a pet than a menace. They like his gifts. Then there is the Adventist, dark and brooding. Two RC priests arrive with pomp and ceremony, with money and a building program. Miss Wong arrives, a Chinese woman who opens a store and runs a few escort ladies for the comfort of the many men who arrive to build an airbase and organise the settlement.
Over all is the heat, the relentless humidity, the crocodiles who are demigods and villagers who try to incorporate the changes into their mythology.
Two of the main characters are Dr Glass, a GP from Wales who treats all manner of ills and becomes part of the very fibre of the island's society. Sam Maitland is a misfit in his home country of Australia and through a series of circumstances ends up being a Jock-of-not-many-trades on the island, but is the only one who truly embraces the island and all it has to offer. The native people embrace him and fully accept him in his simple ways as the only one who can see them as human beings of great value.
Please read this book, it is astoundingly beautiful , insightful and very very funny.
The other novel have read by Stead is "The Sparrows of Edward Street", which I also highly recommend.