Gerald R. Knight
Iguana Books (298 pp.)
ISBN: 978-1-77180-228-4; November 15, 2019
A long-traveling stranger seeks the hand of a chief’s daughter in this debut novelization of an ancient legend from the Marshall Islands.
Ḷainjin—nicknamed Ḷōpako, or “Man Shark,” due to his constant movement—has long searched the scattered islands for his mother, the famous Tarmālu. She once led a large fleet from atoll to atoll, but since leaving her infant son long ago, no one has been certain of her whereabouts.
While Ḷainjin and his bird companion, the Chief, are returning unsuccessful to Wōtto Atoll, where their hunt began, they meet a fishing party from nearby Lae Atoll. The group includes an alluring young woman: Liṃanṃan, the daughter of the chief of Lae, who quickly promises herself to Ḷainjin. The voyager manages to prove himself on Lae—saving the chief’s boat from destruction in a storm and dealing with the aggression of the local men—but there will still be challenges to face in order to be Liṃanṃan’s chosen one. “The most difficult will be resisting” Liṃanṃan’s cousin Likkōkālọk, his girlfriend’s grandmother informs Ḷainjin. “She will do everything in her power to get onto your sleeping mat. She is very cunning, and she will not respect Liṃanṃan’s choice or yours. If you’re not careful, she’ll pluck you out of the water like a fish and swallow you.” After all his searching, Ḷainjin may have finally found a home, but only if he can survive the dangers of the local politics.
Knight’s steady prose succeeds not only in re-creating the details and customs of his prehistoric Micronesian setting, but its language and worldview as well: “In Rālik and Ratak culture both, you could sit yourself down by a man’s fire, enter his shelter, grab onto his fishing line or his kilt, or even throw pandanus fruit at his bird, but you could never touch his boat without permission.”
The pacing is slow and the plot meanders, but readers will be so thoroughly immersed in this remote world that they won’t mind. Fans of prehistoric fiction will enjoy this thoroughly researched and often charming tale.
An engrossing, realistic, and deeply detailed story set in Micronesia’s legendary past.