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.
- Beth Montgomery
- 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.