TABOO (n) [Tongan tabu] 1: a prohibition against touching, saying, or doing something for fear of immediate harm from a supernatural force. In 1975, thirty-three Peace Corps volunteers landed in the island nation of Tonga. It was an exotic place -- men wearing grass skirts, coconut-thatched huts, pigs wandering the crushed-coral streets -- governed by strange and exacting rules of conduct. The idealistic young Americans called it never-never land, as if it existed in a world apart from the one they knew and the things that happened there would be undone when they went home. Among them was a beautiful twenty-three-year-old woman who, like so many volunteers before her, was in search of adventure. Sensuous and free-spirited, Deborah Gardner would become an object of desire, even obsession, in the small expatriate community. On the night of October 14, 1976, she was found dying inside her hut, stabbed twenty-two times. Hours later, another volunteer turned himself in to the Tongan police, and many of the other Americans were sure he had committed the crime. But with the aid of the State Department, he returned to New York a free man, flown home at the Peace Corps's expense. Deb Gardner's death and the outlandish aftermath took on legendary proportions in Tonga; in the United States, government officials made sure the story was suppressed. Now Philip Weiss unravels the truth about what happened in Tonga more than a quarter century ago. With bravura reporting and vivid, novelistic prose, Weiss transforms a Polynesian legend into a singular artifact of American history and a profoundly moving human story.
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