In 1990 the government of Papua New Guinea, supported by Australia, decided to take action against the landowners of Bougainville -the largest of the Solomon Islands. After years of bloodshed and resistance, peace talks brokered by New Zealand began in 1997, eventually leading to autonomy for the island.Lloyd Jones covered the story as a journalist and sets his novel in the first few years of the blockade of Bougainville. The story is told by Matilda, a village girl of 13. Matildaýs father works for a mine in Australia and most young men of the village are away in the jungle, fighting the government forces.As the blockade lengthens and the danger intensifies, Mr. Watts, the last white man in the village, reopens their school to provide the children with some structure. His only book is a copy of Great Expectations, and Mr. Watts reads it aloud to the mystification and delight of the children. The world of Victorian London becomes real to them, as well as the character of Mr. Pip.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This book was universally enjoyed, although many found the climax of the book a shocking contrast to the rest of the story. The simplicity with which Matilda describes the atrocities that take place is unnerving. We were surprised at how little we knew about this siege and the human implications. The power of reading to transport people from their immediate surroundings and circumstances was a powerful theme.