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Within a few paragraphs of Bryan Rostron’s Lost on the Map, I identified with the root of his family intrigue. Mine, too, has a tall tale, passed down by a few generations, that my ancestry includes Cossack guards to Russia’s royalty and that my great-grandfather served as guard to the last tsar. I’ve never checked this, convinced it cannot be true given that imperial guards were selected for their height, and all the male relatives I’ve met on that side of my family are noticeably short.

Rostron, however, has indeed uncovered the truth behind his family’s legend that his great-great-great grandfather discovered Tahiti in 1767, and was subsequently eaten by the cannibal queen, Oberea, who ruled that Pacific paradise...

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