Updated: Jun 12, 2021
When Junius asks the fisherman how old his daughter is. The father replies with hand signals. Signalling to Junius how tall she is, holding his fingers next to his ears. Junius’ question has resulted from the father telling him that his daughter is good with the scaling knife. Junius is looking for somebody to work in the Dutch Resident’s house. The fish girls’ father is only thinking of himself as he rushes off to get his daughter. Ruminating on the possibilities of what his daughter may bring home with her when she visits.
When the father returns with his daughter Mina, Junius approves and tells the father to have her ready to leave the next morning. Mina has no idea what is happening, questioning her mother has she done something wrong. She does not want to go. She has never left the village before.
The sudden displacement for Mina must be incredible, she has only ever seen a white man once before. She knows not what she will be doing. It is impossible for us to experience what Mina must have been feeling, maybe if we were taken to an alien planet, not sure what we would be doing and only ever having seen the alien once before, we may come close.
Mina is put to work in the kitchen and almost immediately falls under the ire of the head cook.
However, in contrast, the owner of the residency takes a shine to Mina, and soon she has moved from the kitchen to serving him his meals.
Another Dutchman is smitten with Mina, this time the Captain of a ship who sees her while dining at the residency. While his lust grows, he works out a way of spending time with her under the false pretense of wanting her to teach him her language. While feigning interest, he gives her gifts and is charming and respectful towards Mina.
Mina, a virgin, and very naïve, is in love with Ajat, who also works at the residency and was the son of the Village Chief back in her old life.
As this is such a terribly short novella, I feel to reveal anymore of the narrative would spoil the story, although readers who have read Somerset Maugham’s short story “The Four Dutchman” will know what is going to happen.
I must commend Riwoe for what she has written here. She has taken the stereotypical island girl, basically just a prop for the sailors and seaman of that era to satiate their lust, and allowed the reader to experience what it must have been like for them, through the eyes of Mina, a character from another short story in which she remains nameless. Essentially Mina shows the reader that these women had very little, if any, say in their own lives.
I have not read “The Four Dutchman”. I was originally going to give this 3.5 stars, but I went and read it a second time (it's very short) and I believe that it deserves 4. Maybe more after reading “The Four Dutchman”.
I am proud to say that Mirandi comes from my neck of the woods and is one of the brilliant aussie writers who are growing in number all the time.
Mirandi Riwoe is a Brisbane-based writer. She has been shortlisted for Overland's Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, the Josephine Ulrick Short Story Prize and the Luke Bitmead Bursary. She has also been longlisted for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize and CWA (UK) dagger awards. Her work has appeared in Review of Australian Fiction, Rex, Peril and Shibboleth and Other Stories. Her first novel,She be Damned, will be released by Legend Press (UK) in 2017. Mirandi has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies (QUT).
There is a great interview with Mirandi talking about "The Fish Girl" at the Stella website here - https://thestellaprize.com.au/2018/04/the-fish-girl/