The novel that Francis Nii had to write
18 April 2017
Tears: A Novel by Francis Nii, Simbu Writer’s Association, Kundiawa, 122 pages, ISBN: 978-1544965291, US$7.00 plus postage from Amazon Books.
BACK in the 1960s, during a census patrol in the highlands, I called out a man’s name and watched him pull himself across the muddy ground to the table where I sat.
He looked up at me and grinned before affirming the details I had about him, including the cryptic observation in the notes column that he was, indeed, a ‘cripple’.
It wasn’t so much the fact of the man’s obvious and severely misshapen spine and useless legs that stayed with me but the look of fierce determination I saw in his eyes.
I encountered something similar just recently when three of Papua New Guinea’s writers travelled to Australia for the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. Among them was Francis Nii, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair after a vehicle accident.
I was talking to Francis and drew his attention to something or someone across the room. Then, quite unconsciously, I grasped the handles of his wheelchair to push him over there.
To my surprise there was firm but gentle resistance. Francis was interested in the conversation where we were and he had grasped the wheels of the chair to stop it moving. We exchanged a friendly glance and I was reminded about something I’d forgotten from that long ago census patrol.
In a way, the need for strength and independence is the theme of Francis’ new short novel Tears.
Being disabled is a huge struggle and it takes an extraordinary amount of inner strength and character to cope and, importantly, to prove that a person with a disability cannot automatically be assumed to be helpless.
In Papua New Guinea this can be hard for such people. As Francis has attested previously in his writing, many disabled people eventually just give up and succumb.
Those born with a disability are especially stigmatised. In some cases they are killed or abandoned. To have a crippled child is for many people shameful, and a reflection upon themselves and their family.
This is what happens to the main character in the novel. As a new born child, Tears, as his adoptive mother names him, is left by his parents in a rubbish bin outside Kagamuga Airport.
A security guard, Joseph, finds him and takes him home to Maria, his apparently barren wife, before noticing the boy’s disability.
Maria represents another sort of strength that is crucial to many disabled people. While Joseph wants to take the baby back to the rubbish bin after seeing his misshapen legs Maria strenuously resists.
Without much assistance from her husband, Maria risks the destruction of her marriage to look after Tears and raise the child. Along the way they both encounter much resistance and prejudice.
Francis makes some telling points about growing up disabled in Papua New Guinea as well as observations about public attitudes and perceptions. He also makes clear that disabled people in Papua New Guinea have many friends, not least among officialdom.
The novel is quite short, only 122 pages. It is a bit rushed towards the end and there are a couple of apparent inconsistencies in the narrative that could have had wider exposition. Apart from that it is well-worth reading.
The short novel stands out as a particularly popular form among writers in Papua New Guinea. That’s not new. In 1976 Longman Cheshire published a volume called Three Short Novels from Papua New Guinea and Russell Soaba’s seminal 1977 novel, Wanpis, runs only to 175 pages.
Tears is also something of a mile stone for Francis and the Simbu Writer’s Association, of which he is a founding member since it is his first wholly independently produced book. He follows writers like Baka Bina, Jordan Dean and Michael Dom in this regard. Expect more books under the SWA banner in the near future.
Papua New Guineans can feel proud of all this: an independent national literary competition and an increasingly broad-based independent publishing effort. May it long continue.
Congratulations Francis. Keep the literary flames burning...
Posted by: Jordan Dean | 03 August 2017 at 03:49 PM
Congratulations, Francis. I am getting my copy in two days. Enjoy reading your books. Thank you for sharing your life experiences. Keep writing.
Posted by: Joe Herman | 23 April 2017 at 12:57 AM
Congratulations Francis - strong messages there. It would be nice to read the book. Dealing with prejudice, assumptions and institutionalised cultural norms are never easy, especially if you are a social minority and facing the negative consequences of it.
I do not have a Kindle but a hard copy of the book would be good. Also for PNG, hard copies is the way because one can easily share.
This year, at Crocodile Prize we have included the Assistant Secretary for Education in our conversations. I am sure the Simbu Writers Group have had more advances in communication for PNG books to be used in PNG schools.
This is certainly a stale conversation but it becomes relevant when I see your book here and Baka Bina's work and more.
Baka Bina and Francis and others, we need to get a space, perhaps supported initially to store all books by PNGeans. Any ideas on moving this forward?
Francis, could you order in bulk and sell it for a start. That's what Baka and I did. I would like a copy from you - a signed one. I have both of Baka's books.
Posted by: Emmanuel Peni | 21 April 2017 at 09:44 AM
Thank Arnold and surely I am missing you for sometime. See you when you are back.
Posted by: Francis Nii | 20 April 2017 at 01:18 PM
Coñgratulations bro, that's another milestone acheivement.
I will surely come around for a chat on that acheivement. Right now I am out in East Elimbari (Yandime) on NFI duties. After East Elimbari it will be Kerowagi, then Nomane and finally Karamui.
So, see you after 2 (or maybe 3) weeks time. Congratulations again, bro.
Posted by: Arnold Mundua | 19 April 2017 at 08:28 PM
Thank you Murray, Daniel, Rashmii, Lindsay, Baka and Philip Kai for your commendation.
In Papua New Guinea there are numerous issues affecting people living with disability either physically or intellectually and due to lack of government policy and programs to address these issues make the whole problem worse.
Although some efforts are being made by organisations like the UN, Call, Services for Disabled and others, there is little progress because, as I mentioned, there is no government policy and progress to address the issues.
I only do what I can by advocating for people to read and know about the issues and do something about it to bring about change for the betterment of PLWD not only in this era but in many years to come.
This short novel is one of my literary contributions towards this advocacy task and I hope one day someone might recognise the relevance and importance of the subject content.
Posted by: Francis Nii | 19 April 2017 at 02:26 PM
Congratulation Francis for making us proud. You have the insights and noble ideas to write more books. Your sufferings is a blessing that brings great joy but when you shed tear drops, you will know the answer.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 19 April 2017 at 12:39 PM
Congratulations Francis. Not only can you write but to publish is feat that a few are getting around too. Again congratulations to you and SWA for continually pushing the frontiers of self publishing.
I would like to extend my thanks to Phil for the candid remarks about it being rushed towards the end and the inconsistencies of wider exposition.
In reviewing my writings, I am seeing clearly now where I could have put in some improvements. I also have that problem and was always wondering if that was my unique problem but it seems that it is a shared problem.
Why does my writing have to be rushed at the end? For me I think it is because of my desire to get off this manuscript or that I feel that I have sort of spent more than enough time on it. I also feel that I have given enough quality time on it.
This assessment is one that I give myself. If it was given by another person, perhaps they will see that but I tend to see it way, way later.
Currently if I had not got the assistance from Mr Brumby, I would have been in such a quandary. It is too good at the moment for me and I am praying that this can hold out for me for a long while yet.
I have the same problems that Francis has and wish that I could casually roll up in Kundiawa to spend an afternoon or two discussing our stories and swap ideas, read each other’s writing and critic each other’s stories.
I would like to think other authors like Marlene in Lae wish they had sounding boards and discussing groups. would have the same. I would like to discuss that and get onto to other works. I do need people who can look at it and give me the hint like what Phil is saying here.
Why can’t I do that at where I am?
In Port Moresby, that assistance is still hard to find apart from Dr Anna and friends at UPNG. I agree that again the issues alluded to Phil points to the editing lack we authors in PNG will find time and time again. Phil has written in earlier pieces that he is restricted in the amount of editorial assistance he can give.
In other places, writers will gather together to self criticise, read portions of manuscripts and accept criticisms. We need to develop that at each of the locations we are in. SWA is in a position to do that as they are an established and organised entity.
I am in Port Moresby and for those on the Crocodile Prize Facebook page will read that I am sitting each Saturday afternoon outside the National Library trying to catch the afternoon breeze and if writers want to discuss their work, can join me there to while their afternoon away. (The security is superb and plenty of shade and benches are good).
I have had no takers yet for the last four Saturdays that I have sat there. My disclaimer is that I can do no editing work however I can discuss broad areas and be a sounding board. If a person has a piece of writing they can roll up. We can discuss their piece and discuss even the reviews that are written like this one.
Posted by: Baka Bina | 18 April 2017 at 09:03 PM
For Francis, hats off again. His is the cap of capacity.
Though in French/Italian/Spanish, the words are 'capable'/'capace'/'capaz', and in English a mere 'able', Francis with capacity, undeterred by language/location/ligature/literacy, lifts, as much as do his tears draw forth human empathy.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 18 April 2017 at 08:34 PM
Congratulations, Francis! Very happy for you.
Posted by: Rashmii Bell | 18 April 2017 at 01:03 PM
Congratulations bro, looking forward to reading it as I have done with all of your others.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 18 April 2017 at 11:10 AM
Francis, congratulations on your latest publication and particularly as it is the first under the SWA banner. I look forward to a great read.
I think that history will record the SWA as a major influence on the development and publication of PNG literature.
Posted by: Murray Bladwell | 18 April 2017 at 09:11 AM