Scoop Review of Books

Bougainvillian Thumbs-up for Mister Pip

By Jeremy Rose

Hutjena Secondary School librarian Celine Lalu  with a copy of Mr Pip, and teacher Margeret Gaemate with what is thought to be the only copy of Great Expectations in Bougainville.  Photo Diane Thorne-George

Dugout canoes and motorboats regularly ply the  300 metre Buka Passage which separates the island of Buka from Bougainville (Bougainville can be seen in the distance behind the small island of Sohano.)

Lloyd Jones’s award winning Mister Pip has been celebrated from London to New York but until now a Bougainvillian voice has been absent from those praising it.

The Scoop Review of Books recently asked the President of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville, Joseph Kabui, whether he had had the chance to read Mister Pip. “No, I haven’t heard of it,” was his succinct reply.

After hearing it was set in Bougainville and was doing well around the world he said he would keen to read it but would have to wait until his next trip out of Bougainville to buy a copy as there’s no bookshop in Bougainville.

But thanks to a collaboration between the SRB Volunteer Service Abroad and Penguin Books a number of Bougainvillians have now read the work. The SRB arranged for six copies of the book to be distributed among the island’s one public library and five secondary schools.

Possibly the first Bougainvillian to read Mister Pip was human rights campaigner Agnes Titus. Titus spent the nine-year crisis on the Bougainvillian island of Nissan and – like the mothers portrayed in the novel – was instrumental in keeping her children’s school running throughout the civil war.

Agnes Titus Photo: Diane Thorne-George

Titus says the book was painful to read. “It was a bit dry at first but once I got to the tale about what happened during the crisis. I didn’t want to put it down. By the third day I had finished it.

“It actually brought memories back. Because it seemed too true it was quite painful. It was like reliving the situation again.”

She says the scene in the book where the women went to the school to tell stories was a realistic example of how the mothers, in particular, tried to maintain a sense of normality during the crisis in an attempt to protect their children from the suffering of war.

Titus would like to see the book taught in Bougainvillian schools. “There are no books about the crisis… it would be good for our children to be able to read this book.”

Sadly, Bougainville’s one public library at Arawa was recently burnt to the ground: rumour has it by a disgruntled student who didn’t do well in his exams.

For background on the Bougainville crisis that forms the backdrop of Mr Pip take at look at this extract from: New Zealand Abroad: The Story of VSA in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

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  1. Iona McNaughton, 17. April 2008, 12:49

    Congratulations on being the first to do the obvious – ask Bougainvillians what they think of the wonderful Mr Pip and how true it rings to them. Agnes Titus’ comments suggest that Lloyd Jones got it pretty right.

    And great to hear there are some copies in their public library.

  2. Rachael King, 30. April 2008, 14:11

    That’s great that SRB have arranged for six copies. Maybe Penguin could donate a few more?