BOOK REVIEW

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KAVA IN THE BLOOD By Peter Thomson (Tandum Press, NZ$24.95)

Reviewed by Michael Field in the New Zealand Evening Post, Wellington.

Fiji is capable of breaking many a romantic's heart.

It has all the ingredients necessary to live up to its now forgotten tourist slogan, "the way the world should be." It is a spiritual kind of land of islands of exceptional beauty and it is rich in resources as diverse as gold and fish, timber and intellectual skills. In other circumstances, too, its combination of people could have made it unique and compelling; Polynesian, Melanesian and Indian, along with what are now called "the fruit salads" -- the Chinese, the whites and the mingled souls who are lucky enough to have it all.

Fiji, like Job, seems to have been tested by a God who has plunged it into its nightmare of two military coups and its role of international outcast. Frightened and uncertain, as many as 60,000 Indians fled, many of them to enrich New Zealand.

Among the exiles was Peter Thomson, a fifth generation white Fijian, who came here in the wake of the coups. A civil servant, he found himself permanent secretary to Fiji's Governor-General, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, after the first coup. Ganilau tried, with some success, to hold the country's honor and democracy and strongly supported by Queen Elizabeth II

managed to keep the country from total collapse.

The coup and its aftermath has produced a steady flow of books and almost without exception they have been self-serving garbage, including Sitiveni Rabuka's purported autobiography "My Way," and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's tedious "The Pacific Way."

Thomson's book is not in this category; while unashamedly subjective, it offers deep insights and emotions that explain much about Fiji. It is an exceptional book.

He does not offer much that would be regarded as hard news. He accepts the notion that Rabuka acted alone and notes that he "correctly assessed and reflected the mood of the majority of Fijians" in carrying out the coup.

The behavior of Prime Ministers David Lange and Bob Hawke is rightfully dismissed as pathetic.

Thomson also tackles the question of what has happened to Rabuka; from coup leader who very nearly sparked a blood bath to a man now apologizing to Indians and desperately struggling to uphold a new democracy.

Some of us who have looked closely see a perceived hand of God, almost. Thomson makes sound sense with his explanation of this.

"But consider the position of a religious man who accepts the joys and tragedies of life as God's will. And look at the teachings of great scholars who over the centuries have argued the case for and against inexorable fate and free will, and perhaps one is less quick to deride those who believe they are carrying out God's work."

Thomson ends on an optimistic note.

"The message of love at the heart of the Gospels guiding Fijian life, sat softly alongside the troubled national conscience throughout this time," he writes. "Faced with a political aberration of their own creation, it was in the nature of the Fijian people that they would eventually correct the wrongs they had brought upon their fellow citizens."

Thomson has produced a readable and sensitive book, which contributes enormously to trying to make some sense of the tragedy of our closest neighbor.

Michael Field Agence France-Presse New Zealand/South Pacific Tel: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz

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