Moving Through the Streets, Joseph Veramu, 1994
- Fiji, #4
- $9.49 from alibris.com
- Read January 2016
- Rating: 1.5/5
- Opening Line: The burly man wearing an undersized yellow tee-shirt that accentuated his bulging biceps and chest cast a warning look at Sakaraia before he took hold of his hand and stamped it with the ‘pass in’ mark.
- Recommended for: credulous delinquents
Oh god this book was awful. I hate to say that about someone’s work, and the author seems sincere in his efforts, but it really is one of the worst-written books I’ve ever read. Worse than Twilight; worse even than Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a story of life in the slums of Suva, of gang violence and rape and social injustice. But there is such a profound lack of insight on the author’s part that it is difficult to tell how accurate a portrayal of Suva society it really is. Morality and motivations are inconsistent: Onisi, for instance, the leader of the gang, has no problem beating another gang member to death and raping multiple women. But when he stabs another woman in a rage he is shaken and horrified, though there is no sense of why he feels differently toward her than any of his previous victims. You get the sense that Veramu, for all his explication and exposition about his characters’ thoughts and feelings, isn’t really getting inside their heads.
What it really feels like is a first draft, the “upchuck draft,” where you put all your ideas onto the page without worrying about style, story, or structure. There’s no real plot, the timeline is confused, characterizations are inconsistent (I mean, really inconsistent; for instance, he writes about Onisi that “He could never recall ever being happy, ever having smiled or laughed,” while literally the paragraph before starts “Onisi laughed.”). He uses “impotent” to mean gay and writes incredibly insensitively about rape (rape seems to be something his characters do when he wants to show how delinquent they are, morally on par with sniffing benzene and drinking methylated spirits, which are also things the gang members do a lot of. It is completely believable that people like this exist, that entire cultures like this exist, but Veramu doesn’t seem to question it, which is troubling to say the least). Minor characters pop up and are given elaborate backstories, only to disappear again without playing a role in the plot. Insights (such as they are) and action (such as it is) are circular and repetitive. Every character’s back story is so similar that you wonder why he bothered to go into them at all.
There are some really interesting ideas buried in this novel; for instance, Merenia, one of the only female characters, chooses prostitution as a more empowering alternative to traditional marriage and family. We see a peek at the racial resentment that fostered the 1987 coup: “Most of the businesses,” thinks one character, “belonged to the Indians, Chinese, or Australians.” That the coup is never mentioned is in itself interesting; though Moving Through the Streets seems to exist somewhat outside of temporal reference, it is nonetheless I think illuminating that the books I read by Indian and white Fijian authors focus on the coup and diaspora, while this book, by an iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) author, makes no mention of it at all. But Veramu isn’t a good enough writer to make me believe that any of these insights or omissions are planned; rather, like much of the rest of the book, they feel somewhat random and accidental.