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John Saunana: The Alternative

This is apparently the first novel from the Solomon Islands, which makes it particularly interesting. It tells the story of Maduru. We first meet Maduru as a boy. He is intelligent, as he manages to get, first, a place in the school on the neighbouring island and then a place in the only secondary school in the Solomon Islands. He is also, by his own account, very good at football. But Maduru is not a very nice person. He is arrogant, rude, sexist and selfish. We first meet him when he clashes with the wife of the headmaster at his first school. She had, apparently, been very good to him. When, during the Christmas holidays, they needed someone to play the Virgin Mary at the Christmas pageant. Mrs. Demont asked Maduru and he accepted. However, when he was asked to wear a dress, he initially though reluctantly accepted but then objected and refused to do so, taking off the dress and throwing it down. On hearing of this Mrs. Demont lost her temper and struck him. He was called on to apologise and refused to do so, even though it might mean he would have to leave the school. Fortunately, the boat back to his island was delayed and, in the meantime, a new teacher arrived. The headmaster had boasted that the children could answer any question but only Maduru was able, more by chance than knowledge, to tell the new teacher how many pounds there are in a stone, and he was allowed to stay.

In the holidays, he is rude to his mother and, against her best advice, chases or, rather is chased and allows himself to be caught, by a village girl. Even in the secondary school, he seems to have problems, as the boys in his dormitory plot against him and make him late for kitchen duties, for which he is punished. However, he manages to survive and moves up. But it is now 1968 and the boys of the school are well aware of what is happening in France and elsewhere and are determined to have their own little revolution. They particularly object to one of the teachers and call on the headmaster to remove him. Not surprisingly, the headmaster does not wish to comply and, not surprisingly, Maduru is at the head of the revolt.

Though certainly not a great book, Saunana tells his story well. He also makes his political point. One of Maduru’s key issues is the racial discrimination against the Solomon Island natives by the Europeans, particularly the British (though the Americans come out quite well). The forthcoming independence is particularly welcomed by him, while the British take the superior view that they are making great sacrifices to help the natives. Naturally, Maduru does not agree. It is a fairly simple story but not bad for a first novel from a country.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by the University of the South Pacific Solomon Islands Centre