About Me

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Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau'ofa

Tales of the Tikongs
(1983, Longman Paul)
Tales of the Tikongs is a slim volume of twelve short stories. It was published way back in 1983 and unfortunately the Tongan author, Epeli Hau'ofa, has since passed away. Such a shame, since this man was clearly a terrific writer with a sharp wit and a critical eye. His stories make fun of everyone from those in power, such as expatriot workers, clergymen, and Government ministers, to everyday villagers and their children. Nothing is sacred and some stories are quite smutty.
   If you enjoy a good laugh then this collection is a must. Even the tame stories are bound to put a smile on your face. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is feeling a bit miserable or to those who are bogged down by government officialdom.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi
(Cannongate, 2002)
With the tragic news of a number of Bengal tigers being shot yesterday in a bizarre private zoo break-out in America, it brought to mind how dangerous these animals can be. Which made me think of a delightful sea-faring story of survival and courage called Life of Pi. I have to say this is one of the strangest plots I've ever come across, but oh boy, what a tremendous story!
   Life of Pi is about a young Indian lad adrift in a vast ocean in a lifeboat. Perhaps that doesn't seem remarkable, but the odd complication to this story is that the hero, Pi, has to share the boat with some exotic animals, the most formidable being a large tiger called Richard Parker. Pi's efforts to stay alive are funny and ingenious. His knowledge of animal psychology saves his life on many occassions. Although Pi manages to feed himself with a few turtles over his time at sea,  he is always aware of the hungry tiger only metres from where he sleeps.
   I have to say this is one of the best books I have read in recent years. The humour is ever-present and I was amazed at how Martel manages to keep the story alive in such detail with so few characters interacting. I have heard that Life of Pi will be made into a film soon. I hope it does a good job of depicting the novel. This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 and has sold millions of copies. It's one of those modern classics that is well worth trying. It would be suitable for older students who have a good grasp of English. I have to give it five stars. It's just brilliant!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Wreck of the Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo

The Wreck of the Zanzibar is a delightful story for children. Written by Michael Morpurgo, the book recounts a year in the life of young Laura who lives on a small island during the early 1900s. The island community supplements their subsistance lifestyles with any flotsam and jetsam they can salvage from the many ships that wreck on the nearby islands. Laura is keen to row out to one of the wrecks but her fathher won't let her.
The Wreck of the Zanzibar
(Mammoth, 1995)
   Things start to get bad on the island when storms damage many buildings and all the livestock sicken and drown. The islanders have nothing left to eat but shellfish. To make things worse Laura's twin brother leaves to find his fortune on a merchant vessel. Then one day Laura finds a turtle washed up on the beach. Hungry as she is, she resolves to save the animal, not eat it. And so begins a strange turn of events that end neatly in the restoration of the island and Laura's family reuniting.
   This book only took me two sittings to finish but I think it would be perfect for a primary school student, just gaining confidence with novels. It is more sophisticated than a chapter book, but the terrific pencil drawings illustrate the action well. The narrative is written as a diary which makes it easy to empathise with young Laura.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Clash of cultures

Last week I reviewed Marooned on Mogmog which was far from the best book ever written. However I often feel that the characteristic of a good book is that it stays with you in your head long after you have finished reading. Why then did this poorly written account disturb me for several days after I put it down?
  The central theme is a clash of cultures and it's a perennial topic that many fiction writers do well. I'm thinking here of Witi Ihimaera, Chinua Achebe and Albert Wendt to name but a few.  As these are all indiginous writers it got me thinking that perhaps it's because we understand the traditional culture so well through their voices that the cultural clash remains unresolved and therefore sticks with us. Then I recalled Sir Arthur Grimble's book, a Pattern of Islands. The writing is richly evocative and the the story set out in logical chapters. Published in the early 1950's it is an account of a British public servant sent to administer affairs in The Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) almost a hundred years ago. Although in a position of power and writing from way back in the Victorian age, Grimble showed a willingness to understand and not to condemn the culture he wrote about.
So my discomfort with Barrie's writing is not anything to do with what angle the cultural clash is written from, rather it's the lack of empathy she presents.
      One the one hand I sympathise with the author in that values such as communal ownership and patriarchal oppression of women are hard for westerners to swallow.  But cultural change is a slow process and the views and behaviour of one liberated outsider seem unlikely to sway a whole entrenched community overnight.
   I often think about Australians as a group. We love to think that immigrants will come here and change their values and lifestyles to suit our way of life. Well guess what? It's not that easy. Perhaps the author would do well to meditate on that.