Review: ‘Oceania’

Oceania coverThe word Oceania typically conjures up images of reclining with a fruity cocktail under a canopy of palm trees while gazing out at the blue waters of the Pacific, whose waves softly embrace the pristine white sand beaches of what surely is paradise. However, this paradise is an illusion that hides a dark truth: villagers evicted from their ancestral homes after nuclear fallout, whole nations slowly sinking due to global warming, staggering unemployment and material deprivation. Unfortunately the rest of the world, which is quite content to continue policies of exploitation, ignores these problems and many others that plague the islands of the Pacific.

In chapter after chapter of his new book Oceania, journalist Andre Vltchek chronicles how the indigenous peoples of Oceania have watched helplessly as their world is shaped by decisions made in capitals halfway around the globe. Examples of their victimization at the hands of Western powers abound. Foreign governments send so-called aid packages directly to corrupt ruling elites on the islands. They use strong-arm tactics to take over land in order to conduct missile tests. They promote vapid consumerism that slowly erodes indigenous culture. With their livelihoods, their culture and in some cases, their homes disappearing, the proud people of Oceania cry out for help and demand some semblance of justice, but their appeals are ignored.

In the book’s opening passages, Vltchek reveals how his love for Oceania, its people, culture, and natural beauty, has grown throughout his travels. As a result of this deep love for Oceania, Vltchek is compelled to reveal its plight to the world. The reader is barraged with one anecdote after another that leads to the foregone and inescapable conclusion that outside actors like the West and increasingly China are the root of all evil. Although Vltchek’s exposition on the struggles of the people of Oceania reflects his genuine desire to help alleviate their suffering, much of which is due to the actions of others, his somewhat overwrought style undermines the seriousness of his argument.

Despite this shortcoming, Vltchek is able to present the reader with a visceral image of a tropical paradise laid waste by the actions of large world powers. Through our inaction and inattention, we are all complicit in the ongoing exploitation of this idyllic region. By presenting these unpleasant truths, Vltchek seeks to shine a light on the suffering of the people of Oceania and shake the world out of its complacency.

Greg Chaffin is an intern for Foreign Policy In Focus.