Melal: A Novel of the Pacific


In this highly original work of history and adventure, novelist Robert Barclay weaves together characters and stories from mythological times with those of the present day to give readers a rare and unsparing look at life in the contemporary Pacific.
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In this highly original work of history and adventure, novelist Robert Barclay weaves together characters and stories from mythological times with those of the present day to give readers a rare and unsparing look at life in the contemporary Pacific.
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Editorial Reviews

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Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
In his wildly imaginative historical first novel, Robert Barclay has wrought a sobering morality tale that defies categorization. Melal is the story of the clashing of two cultures and the fight of a native island people to preserve their ancestral way of life despite the presence of the American military.

The Marshall Islands -- the lushly tropical setting for Melal -- spent nearly 40 years under U.S. administration. During this trusteeship, the United States used the islands to test the most powerful weapons on earth. On the now-polluted, densely populated island of Ebeye, we meet the Keju family: Rujen, a widower who, with the help of his extended clan, is raising his two sons. A native Marshallese, Rujen has spent his adult life working for the Americans to obtain the marginal level of acceptance he now enjoys. In true colonial fashion, Americans are suspicious of the islanders, who are forced to live in comparative squalor.

Rujen's older son, Jebro, rejects his father's attempts to assimilate, choosing instead to embrace his ancestry. As he teaches the lessons of their heritage to his younger brother, the extraordinarily complex and mysterious Marshallese folklore comes to life. Theirs is an exciting, frightening, and haunting journey -- one that slowly brings to light the cultural essence needed to create strength within a society, and that forces the reader to question our capability of achieving that same strength in our own. Melal is an important tale to which only this talented Pacific Islander could do justice. (Summer 2002 Selection)

A day in paradise must be perfect, right? No. In this tale set on an atoll of the Marshall Islands, the mythological and mundane intertwine in the lives of natives and Americans. The story takes place in 1981, but it is also timeless. Rujen Kenu works at a sewer plant, and his teenage son Jebro is set to begin working at the same site the next Monday. In the meantime, he and his younger brother Nuke disobey the American edict about not landing on the ancestral island of Tar Moj. All day on Good Friday, Rujen has an ominous feeling. His bike is wrecked, his shoes are stolen, and he destroys the Christ figure in his beloved Catholic church. His sons have his boat sunk by three drunken American teenagers, and the gods are playing with uncontrollable magic while evil lurks. What is the role of antiquity-and progress? How can natives commit to their culture and still survive modern values? Can these entities co-exist? Barclay has lived in the Marshall Islands for many years, and his intimate knowledge of those cultures shows in his lyrical treatment of the Marshallese. In addition, he captures the angst of both teenage and adult norms and expectations. This is a special coming-of-age book that merits strong promotion and support. Few books explain the feeling of Ohana (family) and the impact of "foreign" American values as well as Barclay; he deserves a wide readership. KLIATT Codes: A-Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, University of Hawaii Press, 300p., Ages 17 to adult.
— Dr. Lesley S.J. Farmer
Honolulu Advertiser
For those who, like most Americans, know little of the Marshall Islands or their history, there is much to learn and much of it disturbing. But Barclay evokes the beauty of the atolls and introduces cheerful, resilient characters amid the bleak waste-strewn landscape, so the book never descends into unrelenting darkness. Furthermore, he makes clear the wrongs that have been done to the Marshallese people without stridency or self-consciousness. He just lets you see. Barclay tells a human story about people who are tackling universal problems.
Pacific magazine
This book is astonishing....
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780824825911
  • Publisher: University of Hawaii Press, The
  • Publication date: 7/28/2002
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Table of Contents

Home 3
Going Fishing 6
Another Dimension 13
The Value of a Seat 16
The Beginning 27
The Frigate Bird 36
Having Fun 43
The Growl 54
The Boys 62
Contact 65
Lamoran 75
See What Can Happen 83
The Pair of Dolphins 89
Smoke 98
The Breadfruit Tree 103
Lunch Time 109
A Real Good Feeling 122
Good Friday 127
A Feast 134
The Ocean 144
The Matter Is Very Involved 156
The Pair of Demons 161
Showdown at the Sewage Plant 164
Shark Clan 171
Sanctuary 179
One Down 209
Rujen and the Demons 221
The Ekjab 224
Ebeye Nightlife 257
What Came Up from the Mouth of the Mermaid 261
The Kind of Fish You Keep 263
Trespassing 266
War 281
The Scream 286
Bull's-Eye 291
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2002

    Best book I've read in a long time!!!!

    It¿s been a long time since I¿ve read a book I loved this much. It is written with so much sensitivity that I was able to connect with the characters and feel for their individual situations. There are parts of the novel that stay with me today. Not only was it a moving story, but it was also suspenseful. The last part of this three-part book was a real nail-biter. There were all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2002

    The quintissential book on the Pacific!!

    This fascinating read is a cross between Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez--a curious juxtoposition and mix between 'The Old Man and the Sea' and the magical realism of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'...A true masterpiece in the understanding of a people barely known throughout the world ( the Marshallese ). If you are one who enjoys being immersed in the ideas and beliefs of a different culture, to warm to their ideology, discover their spirits, and enjoy their incredible stories, this book is for you !!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2002

    Melal: Marshallese word meaning 'playground for demons; not habitable by humans.'

    This is an extraordinary work that defies categorization. It is a political and social treatise disguised as a novel. It is also a lively presentation of the precontact mythology of the Marshall Islands as it survives in the minds and hearts of the islanders, even as they worship in the new forms brought them by Westerners in the last two centuries. The characters of this netherworld, representing the forces of good and evil and vacillating between the irresponsibly playful and the deadly serious continue to affect the lives of people on Kwajalein today. These people are segregated into two communities on a small corner of the largest atoll in the world, one a community of lavish creature comforts provided to entice and retain expatriate employees in what to them must be one of the most god-forsaken spots in the universe, and the other of inimaginable squalor, where the original owners of the atoll are confined, both to serve as menial labor in the lavish community next door, and so as to clear their original homes on the remainder of the atoll, permitting Uncle Sam to engage in the Star Wars testing of missile interception. The terms of their confinement and of their encounters with the American interlopers are usually as defined in ordinances by the latter, but the excitement of this novel stems from forces that cannot be so controlled. They break forth on a single day in the action of the novel, Good Friday of 1981. Grandfather Ataji is remembered as someone who never acceded to these modern intrusions, while his son Rujen becomes a worst-case exhibit of where kowtowing can lead. The reader is taken painfully through what must have been the worst day of his miserable existence, where he still manages, in the end, to assert a bit of his own self and regain a modicum of self respect. Hope, if any, lies with his son Jebro, who carries himself like the culture hero for whom he was named throughout the trials of that same day. He keeps his poise while coping with each new danger, and still manages to look after his more vulnerable younger brother, aptly named Nuke. (Their mother, named for the rainbow, but irradiated by Operation Bravo in 1954, lived only long enough to bear the two of them, and several jellyfish babies.) This is an amazingly accurate portrayal of Kwajalein and what it is like to live there today - - Tarwôj is a real islet, now abandoned and overgrown to make way for the missile testing program, and Ebeye is every bit the slum depicted. It is also an authentic protrayal of the demons and monsters and dwarfs and tricksters that inhabit the Marshallese spirit world - - Noniep and Etao and Wûllep are well known to Marshallese, young and old. Neither of these subjects, as such, would be likely to capture the attention of Western readers. But weave them together in an action-packed and sometimes violent novel, and we have a book that deserves to be read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2002

    A Worthy Title for the New Writers Program

    The author has written a book that defies categorization. Melal introduced me to a culture and part of the world I knew little about, to memorable characters that came alive, and a storyline that weaves history, mythology, religion, action-adventure, and suspense into an enjoyable and entertaining novel. I recommend the book highly.

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