The Exotic

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Pub Date Sep 15 2021 | Archive Date May 17 2022

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers, In the Kingdom of Ice, and On Desperate Ground, the story of the Polynesian man who became the toast of eighteenth-century English society and whose complicated fate foreshadowed the cultural and racial reckoning of today.

The story begins with a painting: A handsome young man with copper skin and regal posture gestures with a delicately tattooed hand. He is dressed in a turban and flowing robes and has the indisputable look of a prince from a foreign land. Painted in 1776 by Joshua Reynolds, the portrait is widely considered to be the artist’s masterpiece. But the man it depicts is a deception.

Since the 2001 release of his New York Times bestseller Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides has been celebrated for his ability to discover little-known stories that bring fresh perspective to momentous historical events. In the new Scribd Original The Exotic, Sides tells the story of a South Seas native who, in the 1770s, became the first Polynesian to set foot on British soil. An adventure tale and a colorful depiction of English society in the Georgian era, The Exotic also explores the themes of paternalism, empire, and colonial arrogance—critical topics in today’s social and political landscape. 

Having lost his father and land in an attack by invaders from Bora Bora, twenty-year-old Mai swore revenge. When Captain James Cook’s ships landed in Tahiti in 1774, during the renowned explorer’s second voyage, Mai saw his chance: He begged to be taken to England, where he hoped to amass the guns and ammunition with which he would return to Polynesia to destroy his enemies.

In England, Mai was feted as a “human pet”—an exotic creature from a wild place who provided high society with a source of entertainment and cultural study. In much the same way that Pocahontas had been celebrated when she visited England a century earlier, Mai was treated as an innocent naïf. But throughout his two years in England, Mai never lost sight of his goal: to return to his homeland and avenge his family. To that end, he agreeably played his part, living in pampered comfort and charming the British nobility, most notably King George III, who eventually agreed to fund Mai’s return voyage to Tahiti with a shipful of weaponry.

The Exotic follows Mai’s journey from Tahiti to England and back again, during which time he transformed into someone not quite Polynesian, not quite British. Having abandoned his homeland by traveling to England, Mai represents the countless number of Indigenous people who lost their identities, if not their lives, as the result of their encounters with the Western world. His story raises questions with no easy answers: What is Mai’s legacy? How do we reinterpret the complicated role of an explorer like Cook? How do people retain their heritage while also assimilating? 

Both a cultural study and an entertaining historical yarn, The Exotic explores the ramifications of European exploration and colonialism that changed the world forever.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers, In the Kingdom of Ice, and On Desperate Ground, the story of the Polynesian man who became the toast of eighteenth-century English...

Available Editions

ISBN 9781094428864

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