Book Review: A String of Pearls

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

One of my very favorite writers is also a good friend  - and an excellent writer that manages to convey a sense of humor while exploring cultural differences! Winfred Peppinck's latest book, A String of Pearls: Caribbean Travels and Beyond, is a gem of travel writing. Full of travel memories and cultural explorations, the book also explores the different islands in the Caribbean, as well as Winfred's travels around the world. Winfred is our WanderingFreditor Editor, and he shares his travel stories (and photos) with  our readers. I treasure his stories because of their humor and their sense of adventure. We were lucky enough to sit down with Winfred and talk about his book, travels, culture, humor, and more. Here's what he had to say...


WE: Please tell us about your book, String of Pearls...

WP: I started writing short anecdotal humorous stories about places that I had visited on my travels to send to some of my friends. Eventually, when I had a collection of them I thought “Why not turn them into a book”. I decided to preface those stories with ones about a number of islands in the Caribbean, which I had got to know while serving as an Australian diplomat in the region. A String of Pearls refers to the islands of the Caribbean. Then there are the stories of the places beyond, Uganda, Beirut, Vienna, Brussels and so on. Little tales with some facts, some happenings and hopefully a few laughs. The sort of book that you can read on the beach, or in the loo, on a plane or in a underground train when there is nothing else to look at! Easy to pick up and just as easy to put down.


Winfred Peppinck - Beirut

Winfred in Beirut



WE: What is your travel/work background - and other books have you written?

WP: I had a thirty year career as an Australian diplomat, which hardly seemed possible when I was growing up as a fringe urban dweller on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia leading a life which was Huck Finn, Tarzan and Croc Dundee all rolled into one. My mother, who had a prim and proper upbringing in the Netherlands, was horrified that I went to school in bare feet – and appeared that way in the school photos! School was fun, with lots of sport but I was an academic also-ran! Luckily I met a girl with whom I fell in love and she persuaded me to go to university and it changed my life. I did an Honours Degree in Politics, specialized in guerilla warfare (a VERY useful life skill!!) and afterwards I was recruited into the Australian diplomatic service. (No, never did marry THAT girl!). For ten years I was on secondment to the President of the Australian Senate as Senior Adviser, and got a lot of opportunity to travel up the pointy end of the plane, meet a lot of world leaders and travel to some exotic locations. I was a VERY lucky lad. From 2001 to 2004 I was the Australian Ambassador to the Caribbean, based in Barbados Then in 2004 I left the Australian foreign service and became an Adviser in the Prime Minister’s Court in the Kingdom of Bahrain and as it gets up to 50 degrees in summer, I used the time to stay in air-conditioned comfort and start writing books in my spare time.

My first book was The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados – a sort of Caribbean Marley and Us, about a dog my wife rescued from the beaches of Barbados and brought to live in splendour in the Ambassador’s residence. We brought DD (Diplomatic Dog) and Miss Lucy (his companion) to Bahrain where he became DD (Desert Dog) and he was an honoured guest at the book launch. A real junkyard to jet-set story!  Then, in the same week that A String of Pearls was published by Olympia, M-Y books brought out my WWII e-novel, Not My Country, about Dutch collaborators in the “Hunger winter” of 1944-45, and the retribution that they know is coming when the war ends. I am now half way through a follow-up novel which starts in emergent Indonesia in 1950 and then travels to Australia in 1951 and looks at the plight of new immigrants who want to become New Australians. There are a few other works on the runway – oh to find a Crofter’s cottage and time!!   


Winfred Peppinck - Barcelona

Barcelona Las Ramblas



WE:  One common theme in your book is your great sense of humor. I imagine that's gotten you through a lot of travel and living abroad craziness?

WP: “My oath” – if you don’t have a sense of humour, don’t travel, because there are many times you will need it to get you past obstacles. I have a back-pack full of stories! Many times “Mr. Bean” moments will not only help get you through, but will bring ‘foreigners’ to your rescue. Most of us like a good laugh and if we are open and engaging, and laugh a lot, often at our own stupidity, then people respond in a like manner and ‘hey presto’ you start engaging and learning and appreciating, even if there are language barriers. It is something that I admire in Americans, their willingness to engage and often their almost naïve openness, which helps disarm people who might otherwise feel an initial distance.



WE:  How do you suggest people best learn to interact with another culture?

WP: Observe, be a good listener and ask a lot of questions because again, most people are willing to talk a bit about themselves, ‘their’ city or town, and their customs. I also believe in reading about places before I travel, so that I arrive somewhat ‘equipped’. In this way too, I try to minimize ‘accidental offence’, like exposing the soles of your shoes towards people in Thailand or bringing a present, beautifully wrapped in white paper, (associated with funerals) to people in China. I am always acutely aware that I am a guest in someone else’s country and that their rules and mores apply and that while I am perfectly happy to talk about ‘my culture’, I do not try and force mine on them although I also enjoy talking with them about the differences. In that way, we both learn and learning adds so much to life. “Travel to unravel” I always tell myself. 


Winfred Peppinck -Grand Prix

Winfred and Wendy at the Grand Prix



WE:  Your joy in travel and experiencing other cultures shines through the entire book. Where are your favorite places to travel? to live?

WP: Thank you, for if you felt ‘the joy of travel’ from my writings, then I have been somewhat successful in conveying why I love traveling, both the journey, arduous though it may sometimes be, and the destination. Even bad journeys – and we have all had them – gain richness in time with the re-telling and embellishment of adversity, for they become a bit like fishing stories about the ones that got away, or like the Monty Python saga of the Four Yorkshiremen! As for favourite places – wow! How do you convey the smell of a barbeque in the Australian bush among the gum trees or the first rain on a gravel road through the desolation of the Outback? Or how do you convey the joy of swimming long hours in a Caribbean sea, so that you emerge the colour of a suet pudding and feeling just as supple? Or just standing in New York, craning ever upward, the thrum of the traffic jiggling your whole body? How I wish I could do justice to a myriad of scenes but alas it is often the ‘politics of experience’ – only feeling that way if you have actually ‘been there’. For me there is simply no favourite dish – there is only the enjoyment of moment, be that in Miami, Florida or Miami Beach in Western Australia, London or London, Ontario, Paris, Vienna, Barbados or Bali. If you look for interest, contentment or adventure, you are likely to find it, and often in the same place. There are so many places where I could live, and cities that I am sure I could never tire of, New York or London or Paris or Vienna or stunning Sydney, Australia although I am sure I would enjoy Sydney, Nova Scotia too! Mind you, even Hugh Heffner needs a break from great beauties every now and then, hence the need to travel, if only to truly appreciate good fortune of the place where you are at!    



WE:  In this globally connected world, how can people truly experience intercultural differences - not just the same malls and tourist traps all over the world?

WP: When we tot up the great life-changing ‘inventions’, then the jumbo jet has to be right up there with the most important of them. It pioneered speedy, ‘affordable travel’ for the masses, and it let people loose on the world. Sea journeys took too long but now people can fly to Europe for a long weekend while most low-cost carriers enable us to get into more ‘out of the way places’ than ever before. Everyone who can ‘afford’ a credit card, can be their own Christopher Columbus and those numbers are expanding every year as the world changes. That is somewhat glib, I know, for travel still remains out of the reach of tens of millions. But in turn, millions are now traveling to parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America where only an intrepid few once ventured, and opening whole countries to change, creating jobs and greater awareness. With the universality of shopping, in relation to malls, it is fast becoming a case of ‘seen one, seen ‘em all’ but the process of shopping and eating and service, varies greatly between Singapore, Shanghai and San Francisco and we still exalt those differences as being part of the reason why we travel and still duck into a mall! Tourist traps are part of the dross of travel, but hey, often they are in ‘must see’ places and that is also part of the joy of travel. New York without the Empire State building, London without The Eye, Ireland without the Blarney Stone, Amsterdam without a canal trip? Bah, humbug, you tourist Trappist! Methinks you must be from a galaxy far, far away to expect to always avoid tourist traps!   


Winfred Peppinck

Freddie the Frenchman



WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us? 

WP: Never lose your enthusiasm for travel and may you always have the means to be able to do so! Travel, like life itself, tests us with its strangeness and differences, or even when it is to places that look the same and where the language is the same, there are still different nuances, as between life in the city and the country. Take a moment to reflect and appreciate those similarities or differences, and then travel, like life itself, can be richly rewarding.



WE: Thanks so much, Winfred! I so enjoyed your book, and am pleased to be able to share it - and you! - with our readers.






Comments (4)

  • lisamann

    14 years 10 months ago

    I'll have to add it to my list of things to read...

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 10 months ago

    lisa - i had such fun reading it! i hope you can find and enjoy it, too!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


  • skyeblue

    14 years 9 months ago

    Winfred Peppinck's book, A String of Pearls, is wonderfully funny, richly descriptive and was/is a pure pleasure to read. He tells you where the tourists go and then takes you to remarkable places off the beaten path smack into one hilarious situation after another!


    Skye Wentworth, Book Publicist

    Newburyport, MA


  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 9 months ago

    skye - indeed, this is one of my favorite books. winfred is so honest in his descriptions that i revised my list of caribbean islands to visist (moving several UP The list!)...he's also great at making me smile while i read, and i love that.


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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