The Boy on the Back of the Turtle


247 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55054-584-1
DDC 918.66'50474





Reviewed by J.H. Galloway

J.H. Galloway is a professor of geography at the University of Toronto.


This is an attractively produced but rather dull travel book about the
author’s trip to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin’s observations
of the islands’ wildlife helped him to develop his ideas on evolution.
Quarrington visited them on a package tour, with his father and
daughter. As the family cruised from one island to another, he was also
looking for material for a book. The result is this strange mixture of
description and introspection, coupled with reflections on the work of
Charles Darwin.

Unfortunately, Quarrington has found nothing of interest to say either
about the islands or about Darwin—perhaps not surprisingly, given that
both the Galapagos and Darwin have been much written about over the
decades. The author’s autobiographical probings and his family life
also failed to engage my interest. The book is permeated with a sense of
ordinariness that he attempts to dispel with humor.

Quarrington complains, as millions complain each year, about the
frustrations of modern travel. His family on this trip suffered no worse
a fate than an unscheduled wait at Quito airport. His fellow tourists
were another irritation, and he did not particularly like his tour
guide. Millions of other tourists have these sorts of experiences each
year. We learn that his daughter is precocious and that his father likes
beer. We also learn he grew up in Don Mills and that the movies shown at
the local Odeon had a formative influence on him.

When Quarrington is discussing Darwin and the early debates on
evolution, his style becomes colloquial, even mocking. At times, he
seems to be amused by his own ignorance. He does, however, append a good


Quarrington, Paul., “The Boy on the Back of the Turtle,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,