In this novel, an incorruptible Native of Bougainville and an American investor become unlikely partners in a quest to
secure the island’s future.
Ishmael is only 20 years old when he joins the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in 1988, a militia newly formed by Francis
Olu to combat the oppressive governmental control of Papua New Guinea. A fierce fighter, Ishmael rises through the ranks
quickly, becoming the leader of the guerrilla forces and then the chief of defense, a morally upright man respected by all.
After a peace is finally forged, he realizes his country is still mired in political dysfunction, plagued by a corrupt police force
and avaricious politicians. In addition, Bougainville is rich in both gold and mineral resources and historically vulnerable to
colonizers. China sets its sights on exploiting the island’s natural wealth—the Chinese Communist Party is portrayed as a
“sinister, mafia-like organization” and the People’s Liberation Army, as “relentless, all-consuming predators.” Despite his
antipathy for politics, Ishmael joins forces with Jack Davis, an American investor in Bougainville also looking to capitalize
on its gold and a man with a treasure trove of experience with the Chinese government. Kuhns’ research is impressively
rigorous—he concisely unravels the fraught history of Bougainville, the victim of its natural bounty, “cursed as a
geographical and political stepchild.” In addition, he provides a remarkable look into the complex machinations of colonial
exploitation as well as the insidious ways in which a populace can become complicit in its own abuse. Ishmael’s
characterization, unfortunately, swings from distant to hagiographic—he is by turns presented as mysterious and as a
“messiah.” Furthermore, readers are likely to get lost in the thicket of details regarding the financial dealings of Jack, an
authorial scrupulousness that threatens to overwhelm the audience. Still, this remains a powerful account of colonial
predation of the contemporary kind, fueled by simple material greed rather than the conceit of ideological fanaticism.
A captivating political tale, dramatically gripping and historically enlightening.