Boy He Cry: An island odyssey
Transit Lounge, $32.95 pb, 310 pp
‘Boy he Cry’ or ‘Gwama’idou’ is the name of a boat owned by one of the inhabitants on Nuakata, the Melanesian Island that is the setting for Roger Averill’s odyssey. The boat is a canoe, hand-carved and painted yellow, with a bright plastic sail, so there is something incongruous about its poignant caption, which, as Averill learns, refers to a local expression: when a boy is hungry and cries for fish, his father must go out and catch it, so demonstrating his love for the child. In this case, there is an additional melancholic twist because Guli, the owner of the canoe, is separated from his son and unable to hear him cry. Averill’s story is permeated by a doubleness of mood that takes a while to reveal itself.
There is a buoyancy in the prose, symptomatic of an overriding commitment to the life Averill has chosen to lead on the island with his partner, Shelley, an anthropologist whose work depends on building enduring relationships in the community. The nickname given him by the local people is Gagasa, meaning ‘Show-off’ (or, as he prefers to gloss it, ‘the Extroverted One’), and most of the social exchanges he records during the early weeks of residency are forms of larking about. He and Shelley are comical figures as they negotiate the hazards of the sea toilet, choke on tapioca and bungle their way through the essential tasks of daily life. Averill admits to frustration and recounts futile attempts to escape the relentless attention of the pack of mocking children, but always comes around, as he does from a number of graver, life-threatening challenges during the year he spends on Nuakata.