Review of The Beginning of the End by Daryl Tarte by Seona Smiles 6 August 2018
Daryl Tarte is one of Fiji’s most prolific writers who has a new novel under way while only just launching his latest, The Beginning of the End, published in London by Olympia and available online.
While obviously it is not the end for Tarte, it is a serious and sombre book that looks at the disastrous course of climate change effects, political pressures and conflict on society. The South Pacific islands region in which he lives is on the brutal cutting edge of global warming and the island peoples experience increasingly strong hurricanes and sea level rise.
Tarte writes plainly and uses a fictional plot to expose home truths as he sees them and to express some forthright opinions through the mouths of his characters. The genre borders on creative non-fiction.
As he says in the introduction: “While this book is written as a novel, and while many of the characters are simply composites of people I have interacted with over the years, not much of the material is fiction. Climate change is a reality and many of the events….are factual and faithfully recorded.”
While there is action and pace in the text, it is essentially a vehicle for a discussion on the disastrous course the world is taking and of the ethical and cultural values that have been abandoned.
Tarte uses his characters to talk about the natural beauty of Fiji and other places and the customs and traditions of their communities, as well as the conflict and climatic disasters. In this book he takes his characters overseas, from tiny, far flung Kiribati to Australia to India and Europe, to explore terrifying trends on a global scale. He engages them in conversations that cover topics from Baltic conflict to the Islamic State, family relationships to terrorism.
To some extent, the quotes on some of his chapter headings give an indication of what he is trying to explore: ‘I want to try and understand where we are going wrong’; ‘Climate change was the main contributing factor in the collapse of Ancient Egypt’; ‘Democracy has weakened the authority of our chiefs’; ‘Our people do not wish to live in another country’; and ‘Man has caused this tragedy.’
The chapter heading quote on P120 doesn’t apply to Tarte: ‘It is simply too political.’ In his writing he seems game for anything, although face to face he is pleasant and kindly, nonconfrontational and conciliatory. The aim in much of his writing seems to be to genuinely help people ‘understand where we are going wrong’.
He’s had long enough to contemplate this. The Tarte family have lived in Fiji for six generations and his early years were spent on idyllic Taveuni island. Life on the copra plantation has been delightfully revealed in some of his earlier works.
He describes writing as his hobby, resulting in publication of eight books about Fiji and the Pacific, biographies, fiction and factual information.
Whatever Tarte’s beliefs and fears may be, or his attitudes and cultural understandings as expressed in this book, he has absorbed much of Fiji’s history and values, and is perhaps best described by the chapter heading quote on P112: ‘This is what it looks like to be a true Fijian’ (although not the particular Fijian described in the chapter).
The essence of the book is well described in the first two paragraphs of the Introduction: “When people think of a South Sea Island nation they inevitably conjure up an image of a tropical paradise with gently swaying palms, pristine beaches, calm seas and beautiful people.
“While part of this image is still true, the harsh reality is, the world is so interconnected that no island is now a remote haven of peace and tranquillity as they are impacted, in some way, by all that goes on in the world.”
After finishing the final chapter it may be good to read Tarte’s last words of the Introduction: “The people of the world face extremely challenging times, but, inevitably, they will overcome, as they have done so often throughout history, and this period will not be the beginning of the end”.
But one suspects there may be a rather high attrition rate. In any case, he had the wit to sign the review copy with ‘Happy reading’.
Seona Smiles is a widely experienced journalist and editor based in Fiji who has worked for much of her career in the South Pacific region and Australia. She has worked on daily newspapers including the Fiji Times and continues to contribute feature articles and a regular weekly column for the Sunday edition. She also writes and edits for a group of Fiji magazines that include the inflight publication of the national airline Fiji Airways. Her work experience has included developing the information office of the Fiji -based regional University of the South Pacific and establishing the Communications Office of the Fiji National University. She has a postgraduate qualification in Media Studies and now runs a freelance editing consultancy that has included some media training and helping postgraduate students with thesis writing styles. Seona is also a writer of creative non-fiction and occasionally gives readings with writers groups including Spoken Word Fiji.