Sunday, February 22, 2015


 "If Lady Gaesasara stands her ground we are doomed."

"According to whom?" Numwaya Nathalie looked puzzled.

"Her associates."

"And just who are her associates?" said the numwaya, pacing restlessly in the deputy governor's office.

She did not walk all the way from the Numwaya Lodge just to hear the politician's views on Lady Gaesasara. Her girls and her guests went missing more than eight hours ago and she was getting extremely worried.

The deputy governor eyed her head to toe and then shrugged. Women were increasingly becoming pests in the consciousness of dutiful politicians like himself was the thought that ran through his mind. He nevertheless gestured towards the secretary to make a cup of tea for the numwaya.

"Black or white, my numwaya?" said the secretary, rising from her desk.

"Oh, none for me, thanks, Rita," said the numwaya. "Make just yours and the deputy governor's. I've just had a cup before strolling over." She pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of the deputy governor. "Who are her associates? And why are you so concerned about her unfortunate partners instead of me and my pressing demands? You forget I voted for you, Ronald. And so did my husband."

"Ha!" laughed the deputy governor, and it was an explosive kind of laughter. "Flatter me as much as you want, my good numwaya, but I do my job regardless. And bye the bye, our natural disaster and risk management unit has been alerted five hours ago, the patrol is out, your girls and guests should be found by now. Besides, porimana isn't as bad as it was a few days ago. Dinghies are safely coming into town in numbers from our part of the province." He paused, pointed to the TV grumbling away along the ledges of the office. "We should rather be worried about her breaking away from her associates."

The TV screen showed Lady Gaesasara stressing the point that the border issue was the problem of the government. The Prime Minister should visit the Oro and Milne Bay province borders as soon as possible before all else escalated into another Bougainville crisis.

"I did vote for you," chuckled the numwaya, then added somewhat mournfully, "she isn't a politician like you, Ronald. She's a lawyer."

"Lawyers or whatever not," smiled the deputy governor, running a finger over a freshly shaven chin, "we all end up in parliament eventually. Which is why I am saying she's making a grave error more than already isolating herself from her associates like that."

"She made the right decision sacking that company," said the numwaya looking somewhat annoyed. "It's the government not keeping its end of the bargain. What's wrong with you fat politicians nowadays?"

"Oh, I'm not fat," said Roland, taking his cup of tea from Rita. "I think the government made the right move last few days. That company is overall important. I'm sure it was all short-sightedness on the part of Lady Gaesasara."

"Short-sightedness," snorted the numwaya. "Good thing she went ahead and sacked that monster company without the advice of her associates - if it is the Nokondi you're referring to. Look what they did to Brazil. Or to Indonesia. What good would the company do to Nokondi - or the Highlands bloc or the rest of Papua New Guinea, for that matter?"

"I still envisage she made the gravest of errors. We underestimate the Highlanders but they still enable us all to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

"Over-dependence is what you all envisage at the end of the tunnel," said the numwaya with a short laugh. "Sack your employer and you're unemployed. An argument most men would like to take on."

Rita suppressed an unwanted laugh by quickly getting herself busy with the files on her desk. Ronald pretended he did not hear. He looked at Rita but changed his mind about what he wanted the secretary to do in the next few minutes. The tea tasted good. As usual Rita put honey in the tea. The pleasantries of distraction from Samalae women, he thought with annoyance. He was thinking of getting rid of Numawaya Nathalie sooner from his office.

"The girls will be all right, Nathalie," he now spoke cheerfully. "How many did you say were on that dinghy?"

"Well, there are the girls, Foroga and Mimi, Mr and Mrs Goldberg or Dan and Amie, Doboro Fjord and the boy Diko."

"They should be all right," said Ronald. "That Foroga, she does wonders when it comes to rough weather."

"I am hoping she does, Ronald. I am so hoping she does."

"Oh, I never doubt Foroga, my good numwaya. Rita, you've been up north coast way on a couple of trips with Foroga... you'd know..."

"Yes, sir," said Rita, her eyes dropping to the floor. "One time we ran into a storm. It was night, pitch dark. We couldn't see nothing all around us. It was total blank like. I was scared. Sitting there, clutching on whatever I could hold onto, I cried for my parents, I cried for dear life. I prayed and I prayed. But Foroga, she just told us not to fear. She told us she could feel the current and tide beneath us. They were friendly, she said, even though the waves got rougher and angrier, and even at night we could see them mounting high and big like this building we sitting in..."

Thursday, February 12, 2015



As slected by Russell Soaba, Soaba's Storyboard and The Anuki Country Press

The best novel in the English language is not judged by its popularity, by its sense of timelessness nor by word of praise from its immediate locale but by its ready appeal to the willing consciousness of the modern world at large. A renowned critic may by and by remind us that The Great Gatsby or Ullysses ought to be included on our list but that to some degree would be an outdated kind of notion, if not suggestion. Times have changed considerably and so has the intellect of those great thinkers of the world who, particulary at a time when the globe itself seems to be in a vulnerable position of losing its status as a comfortable place to live in, believe that what mankind writes must answer some of the most pressing questions about narrative, and story telling, by not only the present generation by those yet to come. The best novel is therefore considered to be such by this very lot of intellectuals and critics, many of whom are quite ordinary people like us who care more about the state of the planet we live on than the cleverness of one who picks up the pen to write.

Counting from the top, number one, to the bottom, number ten, here are our 10 best novels written in English.

1. Retaining its significance for over five decades as an anti-colonial narrative and despite its sense of provinciality, the very quality that substantiates its sense of greatness as a novel, Things Fall Apart is a must read for the serious scholar and student of literature in our times. Written at a time when one part of the world was beginning to doubt itself about its own power and influence across the globe. W.B. Yeats did not waste his time with those pre-conceived, pre-civil war meditations on the shape of things to come and Chinua Achebe well understood that.

2. Considered by a segment of Third World countries as the worst of narratives as far as aesthetics go, Heart of Darkness will retain its reputation as the most important moment of narrative in the annals of modern world fiction. Powerful in descriptions of landscape and imagery it is the sort of novel lavishly treasured by the serious student of civilizations, race, class and gender. Joseph Conrad's (or more precisely, the novella's) worst critic has been Achebe himself. But the rest of the Third World and the whole world at large thinks otherwise.

3. Seldom does an Aristotelian tragic hero get comfortably nestled into the religious consciousness of a larger culture (such as that in the Western world) but in The Power and the Glory the "whisky priest" does. At the end of the novel we cannot, looking up from a tea cup, resist asking why Graham Greene would consider an alcoholic as a protagonist. Aside from Conrad's and others', this novel will remain one of the finest pieces of writing in the English language.

4. The notion of a novelist from one culture getting into the conscioussness of another can prove troublesome as much as risky at times. Not many succeed in this area of literary enterprise - "the art of jumping into the skin of another" as the novelists Tevor Shearston and Russell Soaba put it. But Randolf Stow does in this fine novel, Visitants. Though written entirely in the English language it surprises the native English speaker by making itself be read in the Kiriwina language of the Trobriand Islands - the islands closely asssociated with Bronislaw Malinowski, the anthropologist.

5. What is greatness in story telling but that which opts for liberal simplicity in its approach to complex subject matter? Human sentiment can easily overcome what we naively term as common sense, especially when that "common sense" happens to be lateral through and through. Somewhere in a turn of phrase, in dialogue or in character, Alan Paton knew that one day an embodiment of his passion in writing a novel would come in the person of Nelson Mandela. The apartheid policy has been the most difficult of phenomena in human calculation and the whole world needed Cry, the Beloved Country to break the chain of bondage this very policy had created.

6. Things that come to the human senses as rustic in nature are often frowned upon by the demands of high powered metropolitan intellectualism. There is much manouever for room in this regard, much pushing and shoving, as it were, all in the name of the survival of the fittest. Yet the rural setting, the rustic sentiment, the provincial sense of pride remains safely intact in its quiet corner of timelessness. We all are peasants at heart whether we like it or not. John Steinbeck teaches us that in East of Eden.

7. All novels are monumental in their own right. But there are those that actually build monuments worth mulling over in our consciousness. All art pertaining to pastoral scenery, all imagery pertaining to memorable depiction and all narrative concerning what is most valuable to humankind are ever present in novels such as this that the serious scholar, the serious student of literature searches for. Metonymous use of language itself becomes the order of the day. Thus, Patrick White's monumental The Tree Of Man.

8. Not often does a critic, editor or essayist choose to write a novel. When that happens the result or product of the effort is met with mixed feeings and thought. That is because the challenges are too conspicuous to ignore, as conspicuous as an English speaking reader from one part of the globe exclaiming: "What the heck is Ulysses about? Translation, please!" It all boils down to asking, quite properly, what the subect matter of a novel is. When Drusilla Modjeska set out to write The Mountain she half suspected she would be treading on unfriendly territory. Her readership would be small, she realized, limited only to Papua New Guinea and Australia. But her belief in the novel as a plausible venue for a good argument got her home safely.

9. The English language is the most difficult of entities for anyone, particularly a non-native English speaker, to adapt to or even tame and domesticate. For over four decades Russell Soaba, to whom English is a sixth or seventh language, did just that: tame the language - so much so that "one can hear the pulse and beat of one's own language in English". His novels best speak for themselves in that regard. Maiba finds itself a place in this selection and has so far been translated into Italian and French.

10. Finally, great novels albeit the very best, are those that cross vast cultural boundaries for no other purpose than to remind us once all over again that all humanity matters. They need not teach nor explain things but leave them as they are: unnamed, invisible; allowing only their narrative to flow on without a hint of who will read them along the way, who will bother to pay attention to them, yet leaving a significant amount of impression on those who come across them, even by chance. There is where humanity finds its sense of identity. There is where we all find ourselves. In our moments of invisibility, in our deepest sense of anonymity, we know we have arrived. We feel complete, we become one with Ralph Ellison. And so it is with the novel, Invisible Man.

So there you have it: our selection of the 10 best novels in English.

Things Fall Apart; Heart of Darkness; The Power and the Glory; Visitants; Cry, the Beloved Country; East of Eden; The Tree of Man; The Mountain; Maiba; Invisible Man

There are other great titles in the world today. But unfortnately for most of us these were never, originally, fashioned and made available to us in the English language. 

Monday, January 26, 2015



Some updates on the novel FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN (working title)

Retracing the narrative of the novel - in real life
On the 12th December 2014 I set out on a holiday trip that turned out to be a retrace of the novel's aging protagonist's journey into the Great Anuki Country, Milne Bay Province. I wanted to witness again the sort of wild country inhabited by the characters, prominent among them and excluding the protagonist would be an elderly anthropology couple from the US, a visitor from Norway, several high school students and youngsters from Alotau town and, of course, the ever loyal guide and protege of the protagonist, Tomwaya. The following are brief day to day accounts of that holiday trip.
12th Dec. Left Port Moresby for Alotau at 10am arriving there at 10:55am. Signed in at the Saugere Guest House for K80 a night. It was a lovely guest house of the Kwato Missions with quiet and peaceful surrounds. In the novel the protagonist appears at a similar tourist lodge but does not spend the night there even though he had paid K500 in advance for room and board. Saugere is a mile and half out of town. I went for a bus ride to town, visited the famous sites such as the markets, shopping areas and the beautiful waterfront of Sanderson Bay. Couldn't do much the next two days, Saturday and Sunday, as the main shopping centres were closed for the weekend. Even the ATM was closed. Went to Sunday service at the Anglican Resurrection Church.
Monday 15th Dec did a quick shopping - provisions to last me 3 weeks or so. Negotiated with a dinghy crew for transportation from Awaiama to Tototo. Also struck up a deal with a tomwaya (sounds familiar?) for the highway journey from Alotau town to Awaiama. We settled for K200, both parties happy. As for the dinghy I offered K500, but they wanted more, so we finally settled for K700. That's expensive. A total rip-off, to be precise. Nonetheless we all were able to travel to Awaiama that same day. Signed out at Saugere at noon, went back to town and did some more shopping as finishing touches on provisions. Left Alotau town at about 2:50pm arriving at Awaiama at 4pm. The dinghy crew said the weather was fine for further travel so we said goodbye to tomwaya to drive back to Alotau as we set out from Awaiama soon after 4pm.
It was calm all around Goodenough Bay and the sailing proved to be pleasant well into the evening. Soon it was nightfall in mid ocean and lights began appearing one by one as we drew closer to Cape Vogel. We arrived at Rausewa at 8.43pm. Spent the night in that village.
In the novel, the characters go on a dinghy trip to Samarai Island, but upon returning to Alotau late in the afternoon run out of zoom. They are stranded. They float in mid ocean. Night falls and there's a storm. They drift and drift towards Cape Vogel... etc.
Tuesday 16th Dec. We left Rausewa in the morning around 8am, went around to historical Mukawa and thence sailed on to the Great Anuki Country. We arrived at Besima at 9:15am. Had tea at Kaibara. And later walked down to Tototo.
Wednesday 17th Dec. First day at Tototo. Interesting conversations. Yet intriguing. For the next few weeks and well into Christmas and New Year I shall stay at this village, mulling over its 107 years of history - its contact with the Anglican Church and its struggles to maintain itself as a place the protagonist of our novel calls home. It is a wild country, but the stuff of dreams found in every novel - its mystery of being itself a home, of resisting all material temptations that the Western world offers and its very struggle to retain its own dignity as a replica of those ancient civilizations gone by.
There where the excitement of the human passion is, there where much drama is, where the human soul is - there is where truly our novel is set... away from the buzz and hackling of the cities, away from metropolitan quarrels and debates...
...there where the human heart, mind and soul walks through each forest, each kwamra and gubura in search of light and the open sea... out there, from the mouth of Tototo's estuary leading to Posa Posa Habour with so many of its islands in the stream...there is where our novel is...

A lot of novelists have a fair idea of who their audiences are. Many cite E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and the notions of story and plot, the most suitable of places as their settings, the type of characters, round or flat, that they set out to deal with; and the rhythm and flow of narrative. And yet others dream of being Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or other, in their endeavour to write a good novel. Some simply shrug and say, "I write to please myself."
But for this novelist the attention of the future generation and those yet to come matters more.
And here is why our novelist, the author of FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN, thinks that the attention of future generations matters more. He subscribes that children catch up faster and far more so with diligence to new thoughts and aspirations than older people. They are more attentive in the sense that the language they acquire as they grow up with gives them more of that opportunity to discover and know themselves. Now comparatively speaking children in the strictly rural or rustic or provinciale setting respond far more readily to pure human thought and utterance than those in towns and cities. Everything they hear coming out of the mouths of adults, and particularly in the language that they know, speak and understand better, is poetry, is wisdom and truth. Even they, the children, far removed from comics, far removed from the world of video cartoons and games - which are indeed terribly distracting in the process of their growth from childhood to adolescence - speak like adults. They think like adults. And most important of all they meditate as adults would. This is why our novelist envisages that all good novels, particularly the Papua New Guinean novel, are best placed in the hands of the children. MAIBA wasn't written for nothing, one dares to say! And by this lot of children we mean the rural child, the rustic child, the provincial child. After what this child goes through by the very experience of growing up in a rural setting the chances of seeing the whole world better are enormous. What this child dreams of is that which spells out splendor, the grandiose, the marvelous, the wonder and beauty of the world itself. Thus, if in our novel, FINAL ISALNDS IN THE SUN, we note that the whole world appears in twofold - the rural and the metropolitan - they, the rural children, see it better. They know what it is all about. They know what the old protagonist wants. They know what Lady Gaesasara of the cities is fighting for and defending. These characters represent their well being. Without them they will perish. And so we continue to write this novel. We continue to dream with them, these rural children. We continue shaping and moulding, honing and chiseling, each word, each phrase, each paragraph, each chapter, in their favour. And we watch how they respond as we go along.