Winner of the Common Wealth Prize 2008,
Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2007,
The book is set in the early 1990 on Bougainville Island, woven around a group of children against a backdrop of civil war.
The main characters are Matilda, a thirteen-year-old black girl, her mother, Dolores, a native black woman with staunch religious beliefs, and Mr. Watts, a white stopgap teacher for the war-ravaged children.
Jones’s storytelling is brilliant. The world of rebels and redskins, combats, periodic and unpredicted raids, the beauty of the sea, and the power of imagination breathes life into the pages. It stays with you long after you’ve finished the story.
How Mr. Watts, an exiled white man, forges the connections with the natives—the children, the wary adults, and even the rebels over Dicken’s literary classic—Great Expectation forms the bare bones of the story. Jones fleshes the narrative in Matilda’s insightful voice, and as you turn the pages, the island’s sultry air grows in on you. Matilda develops an intricate relationship with Dicken’s Pip. The similarities, the courage Matilda draws from Pip’s story form some of the most delicious chunks of the story.
The book is as visual as it gets. At Certain times, the words leap out and create this unknown world right in front of your eyes.
The story tugs at your heart, tearing it apart without giving you enough time to prepare for it and leaving it so. As you trail behind Matilda, going through her life, you pick up the pieces of your broken heart along with her and realize that life still goes on even after everything is said and done.
A charming book indeed, it now has a permanent abode in my collection. This book touched a chord because, like Matilda, I was hooked on Dickens after reading an excerpt of the Great Expectations in my school textbook. And, just like her, I sometimes love the fictional characters as much as real people, if not more.