"Mitchell achieves the nearly impossible: writing as an 'outsider,' he immerses his reader in the interiors of Pacific Islanders without simplifying the people, condescending to them, or romanticizing them. These stories are told from the points of view of Nagovisi people young and old, male and female, gentle and fierce, and by narrating their lives in their own voices, Mitchell conjures characters complex and remarkably real. A highly original collection, quietly lyrical and wise." -- Ann Pancake
"In his forward, Mitchell tells the reader that he lived among the Nagovisi people in the early 1970s and that these stories are fiction. A good storyteller entertains; a great one makes stories real, and that’s what Mitchell did in this collection.Through each narrator, the reader gets insight into the Nagovisi’s culture—learning as one goes along, perhaps similar to the way Elliot, the anthropologist, came to understand it. 'Fireflies Killed Her' is about a man who struggles with who actually killed his wife and why the violence even happened. 'I Don’t Kill People Anymore' is a carefully paced story about Mesiamo—a leader among his people—and Elliot, who discover that courage and shame aren’t perceived the same way. In 'My White Man,' the friendship between Siuwako and Elliot is genuine and touching. Their dance of attraction, which could never be explored, is completely believable."
"As someone with psychological training and avid interest in other cultures, I was delighted with Don Mitchell's book, with its linked stories from the Nagovisi of the Solomon Islands. There is a good deal of contemporary ethnographic fiction such as the recent The People in the Trees (Yanagihara) in which the native people and the anthropologists who work among them appear as crude caricatures. In his forward, we're told that Mitchell lived and worked beside the Nagovisi for a number of years, learning their language and culture. What makes this volume of short fiction both distinctive and compelling is his empathic understanding of the people he lived with and his decision to let the tribespeople narrate the stories: the speakers reveal both their unique cultural "take" on things and their deeper humanity that bonds them with Elliot and with us as readers. [For example] Siuwako is a young mother who works side by side with Elliot in the gardens as his 'woman friend and teacher.' Hers is a subtle love story in which she extracts from him a tragic secret and says with pride that together, they 'became something [we] had never been, or seen, or heard about.' For the reader who appreciates short stories of depth and complexity, and who is curious about other cultures, this book will supply much enjoyment, right up to and including the last story, a coda apparently told by Elliot himself years later. Let's hope we hear more from Mitchell, who pulls off the rare feat of catching the rhythms of another people, another language, another culture."
"A fantastic work of storytelling and ethnography from Don Mitchell, channeling his days in the early 70's amongst the Nagovisi people of the South Pacific. These interlinked tales form an incredibly complex and moving narrative capable of transporting us far from our everyday lives. Worth buying several copies and sharing with friends.”
"This brilliantly original work of fiction is told by [Nagovisi] men and women.The subtitle makes clear the debt that the author owes to the people he celebrates in his lyrical prose. These stories are not 'about' the Nagovisi, but come out of them . . . they are good readers of character, these Nagovisi, able to observe, analyze, and predict Lyman’s actions. And they are great storytellers, eager to spin long, boisterous tales."
This collection of short stories by anthropologist Mitchell provides a window into the culture of the Pacific Islands. The Nagovisi people live in West-Central Bougainville Island, which is part of the Solomon Islands in terms of culture and ethnicity but is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Although the stories Mitchell presents are to be read as fiction rather than ethnography, they nevertheless offer a glimpse of a group of people and a way of living with which many readers are likely unfamiliar. The tales, which range in length from a single page to 50, display a variety of storytelling techniques. Some, such as "Crocodile Kills His Father" and the eponymous "A Red Woman Was Crying," are takes on traditional folktales. In the former, after a woman named Sipita gives birth to the first crocodile, she hides him in a basket and warns her husband not to look inside, just as, say, Bluebeard warned his wife not to open the closet and Pandora was warned not to open her box. Some of the stories give a view of the larger Nagovisi culture and seem representative of what might be told to children, the equivalent of the Western tale of Mother Goose. Others have a more typical narrative structure and, rather than highlighting any sort of overarching mythology or belief system, serve to explicate aspects of day-to-day life in this culture. There's much of interest here, particularly to readers with an anthropological bent, but even though Mitchell doesn't aim for this to be an academic text, a little more context would be helpful. The collection would also read more smoothly if the folktales were presented in some kind of lucid order; as is, the contrasts in style can be abrupt and somewhat jarring. A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.