Book: Under Solomon Skies
Author: Berni Sorga-Millwood
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Reviewed by Reshma Ruia
Berni Sorga-Millwood’s novel, Under Solomon Skies, is a remarkable portrayal of an island community struggling to survive in the face of environmental degradation, climate change and commercial exploitation. It is also a tender story of friendship, resilience and the will to overcome obstacles.
The novel is inspired by true events and draws upon Sorga-Millwood’s own experience whilst working in the Solomon islands as a VSO volunteer. The story follows the misadventures of two childhood friends, Toni and Jack, who embark on a routine boat trip to a neighbouring island, but due to an oversight find themselves stranded at sea.
Millwood writes vividly about their struggle to survive, capturing their emotional turmoil and physical hardship in bold, gripping language that brings their predicament to life. The ocean and its mercurial nature is a protagonist in its own right and the symbiotic relationship between the two men and the water is illustrated powerfully.
Millwood’s skill lies in expanding this adventurous tale to incorporate a detailed snapshot of a way of life that is being threatened by external forces. Jack, the central protagonist, is painfully aware of the damage caused by overfishing and indiscriminate felling of trees.
‘Some countries have already depleted their own natural marine resources, now they’re stealing ours,’ he exclaims at one point. The islanders have little option but to seek employment in these exploitive companies in order to earn their livelihood.
Yet the book is not a misery memoir nor a polemical rant. There is sheer joy and flashes of humour in the way Millwood writes about the childhood pranks and pleasures of Jack and his friends as they move from childhood to manhood. The comradery and easy banter between them as they hunt for a wild pig, feed crocodiles and hoodwink gullible tourists are some of the most enjoyable parts of the book.
Under Solomon Skies is refreshing and unique in its evocation of the customs and daily life in a part of the world that may be new to most readers. It is filled with wonderful descriptions of wedding customs, feasts and the coexistence of traditional beliefs alongside Western education and religion, while also highlighting these island communities’ dependence on tourism and the ever-present threat of poverty and disease they face.
This is a powerful and accessible novel. It will resonate with readers for its striking imagery, authentic character portrayal and universal concerns.