(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Sea Wall, which documents one form of colonial oppression by chronicling the intimate life of an idiosyncratic family, is a masterpiece of narrative strategy. The characters’ intense, often abusive relationships are shaped by spiritually debilitating cultural conditions and defy conventional moral expectations.

The narrative begins when Ma and her two children have lived on their land concession for three years and recounts the family’s history to date: Ma, widowed soon after moving to the colony, obtained the land from the colonial government with savings earned from many years of hard work as a cinema piano player. Her hopes of a comfortable income from rice farming have been worn away by the yearly floods on the land—the Pacific flooding which has driven several other families from the same concession. After the first flood, Ma gathered together the native plain dwellers and, with the halfhearted consent of the local land agents, planned and executed the construction of a great seawall to drain the land and make it arable. For all of their efforts, however, the annual flood came and destroyed the wall in a single night.

Since that flood, Ma, heavily in debt from her failed project, is obsessively preoccupied with building another, stronger wall and prevailing over the land agents, who will profit from her failure to cultivate the land by repossessing and then reselling it. Ma still maintains a subsistence banana crop, and her children have accommodated themselves to a bleak existence by entertaining passive fantasies in which a rich, attractive stranger of the opposite sex rescues them from the plain.

A stranger does appear on the plain, and while not attractive, he is rich and therefore desirable. Monsieur Jo begins his courtship of Suzanne in a seedy nightclub where he meets the girl and her family. This location sets the illicit tone which...

(The entire section is 777 words.)