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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

December 02, 1990|Alex Raksin

TUTURANI: A Political Journey in the Pacific Islands by Scott L. Malcolmson (Simon & Schuster: $19.95; 267 pp.). "I had the feeling of facing too many symbols at once, too many histories that could never be made to add up." Village Voice editor Scott Malcolmson wears his confusion as a badge of pride, a sign that he is on to "a new way of travel writing, of foreign journalism, of anthropology," having avoided the arrogant, white-male way of thinking that has colonized people in the Pacific much as it has simplistically categorized them on paper. But his incomprehension may just as well be a sign that he is hopping too quickly among these nine island territories and semi-sovereign states to get a handle on their politics or culture. Significant events often are mentioned only in passing (as when the president of Palau commits suicide in the middle of one narrative) and explanations, when offered, are overly cautious: The islands "are gradually being destabilized by experience." Malcolmson is gifted with a rare ability to make exotic settings seem immediate, but his reluctance to probe the social and political roots of his islanders' frustrations ironically leads him to support the very colonial power structures he initially deplores.

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