When you buy Solomon Time, (at least the version ISBN 9781416575276 for $35.95) you may get 2 books for the price of one. Unfortunately, it is the same book, bound together twice into one volume. It’s the first time that has happened to me–and so the book ends in what you confidently think will be the middle! If I had known that when ordering, I would have insisted on paying no more than $17.95.
Will Randall is an ex-patriate Englishman along the lines of the great comedic travel writer Gerald Durrell. He’s a bit hapless and clueless, and is the first person to poke fun at himself while genuinely respecting the Native populations he lives among.
Randall has taken on a quixotic quest–leaving his longtime teaching job in the UK to complete the last wishes of an old expat in the Solomons–an Englishman simply called “The Commander”. The Commander was the owner and boss of a small cocoa and copra packaging venture. When ill health forced his return to England, he wrote the Solomon Islanders into his will. To wit: any English person willing to take on the challenge of moving to the islands and starting a business enterprise there–to improve living conditions for the people–will inherit his money.
Randall is just crazy enough to do it. His attempts to start a poultry farm are hilarious. Along the way he learns that the islanders do everything in their own sweet time, with none of the “fretful impatience” of those born in the West. Solomon Time means whenever a person feels like getting around to it. Similar to the “manyana, manyana” offered up by Cornish people to Londoners.
Although peaceful now, these islands are where JFK and the crew of the PT-109 were shipwrecked during World War II. The Americans and the Japanese fought some bloody battles here, and, fittingly, Japan now supplies a hefty amount of aid to the islands.
Who Is, and Is Not Your Wantok
Randall meets a cast of quirkly characters including Small Tome and Small Small Tome and quickly learns about the bonds between “wantoks“–a wantok is another person who speaks your language. Being someone’s wantok carries social obligations up to and including the loaning of money and the providing of shelter. Since over 100 languages and dialects are spoken in the Solomons, being someone’s wantok is a very big deal.
Unfortunately for Randall, Mr. Wu, a rumored provider of day-old chicken eggs, is NOT his wantok:
When Mr. Wu spoke it was at great speed and with an almost impenetrable accent. For the great part I had no idea what he was saying.
This, by contrast, was easy enough to understand although I tried not to believe my ears. I had not risked life and limb to get here only to be told “No chicken.” I felt like throttling Mr. Wu or bursting into tears of laughter or all three simultaneously.
Perhaps sensing some threat to his personal security he added, “No chicken this wee. Ness wee. Egg hatch ness wee. This wee using ing yoo batter. So ready ness wee.”
“Batter?” Ing yoo batter? What the heck was he talking about?
“Incubator”, whispered Nick.
“Oh yes, incubator, of course. Absolutely. Ing yoo batter, yes yes, good.” I hardly knew what one was.
Rating: Five complete chickens!!!!! This book is delightful from start to finish, and again from start to finish.