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A Medal Without Honour by Nash G. Sorariba

A Medal Without Honour - Nash G Sorariba

I read the first two stories in this collection, the only work of fiction by a Papua New Guinean author that I could find. And it's a short book to boot, at only 144 pages (perhaps a dozen of which are occupied by illustrations), so believe me when I say it had to be awful for me to decide to abandon it.

But you don't have to take my word for it! Sample it yourself. Here's the opening of the first story, "A Medal Without Honour," typed exactly as written:

Two Japanese zeros appearing from nowhere, swept menacingly low, spitting death all around the long column of over-burdened natives. Deadly bullets raining down from the mounted machine guns on those mean looking flying machines. The natives panicked and scattered for cover in panic, under the punishing heavy loads they carried. Food and ammunition for the allied troops, holed up along the ranges of what was later to become known as the "famous Kokoda Trail". This was a painstaking task and the natives were beginning to get used to it. The task of a carrier or a "cargo boy", promised nothing more than death or survival as the ultimate fate. Such was the ordeal and the nature of this punishing task that saw some natives flee to freedom during the first week of forced recruitment, by the ANGAU officers. They remained frozen wherever they fell when they took cover meditating silently to their long gone ancestors, hoping they would help them stay alive!

Harsh words of command barked from the white boss-man amidst blood-curdling screams of dying men, as the deadly flying machines made another run. Again the Japanese fighters approached with rage, irritating and deafening. Dry leaves, tree branches, and even tree trunks including kunai grass whithered and wavered as they absorbed bullets . Somebody down the column yelped from their hide-out and began moaning in pain. Another screamed and sprang up from the opposite side of the track, tossing off the heavy napsack and began jerking involuntarily for the last dance. He dropped head long onto his face and died.

This is representative of the story as a whole. The book is rife with spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Verb tense shifts randomly. Word choice is poor: the approaching fighter planes, which drive people into a panic, are "irritating," while the panicked carriers "meditate" to their ancestors? And sometimes it's so poor as to be nonsensical: dry leaves absorb bullets, causing them to "whither"? Repetition of the wrong words and phrases is distracting: the natives "panicked and scattered for cover in panic"; the airplanes are referred to as "flying machines" twice in two paragraphs even though the narrative immediately identifies the type of plane in question. Momentum never has a chance to build: as the fighter planes are sweeping down, the author calls a halt to the action to make vague assertions about the nature of the carriers' jobs (called a "painstaking task" and a "punishing task" in back-to-back sentences). And the ideas are expressed in a clunky manner; so the jobs "promised nothing more than death or survival as the ultimate fate" - well, either death or survival is the ultimate fate of anyone caught up in war.

The story goes on like this for about ten pages before, on the eve of the definitive battle, it without warning shifts to its primary character (I hesitate to call him a protagonist when he plays only a small role in the story) as an old man. The shift is so abrupt it took me a couple paragraphs to figure out what had happened. It continues for two or three more pages without ever finding a plot, then ends.

I read the second story ("A Sordid Affair") anyway, because it is short. It at least has something resembling a plot. But the author would need to do a lot better than that to compensate for the truly terrible writing. There are self-published books better than this.