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Coral and Concrete: Remembering Kwajalein Atoll between Japan, America, and the Marshall Islands

Coral and Concrete, Greg Dvorak’s cross-cultural history of Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, explores intersections of environment, identity, empire, and memory in the largest inhabited coral atoll on earth. Approaching the multiple “atollscapes” of Kwajalein’s past and present as Marshallese ancestral land, Japanese colonial outpost, Pacific War battlefield, American weapons-testing base, and an enduring home for many, Dvorak delves into personal narratives and collective mythologies from contradictory vantage points. He navigates the tensions between “little stories” of ordinary human actors and “big stories” of global politics—drawing upon the “little” metaphor of the coral organisms that colonize and build atolls, and the “big” metaphor of the all-encompassing concrete that buries and co-opts the past.

Building upon the growing body of literature about militarism and decolonization in Oceania, this book advocates a layered, nuanced approach that emphasizes the multiplicity and contradictions of Pacific Islands histories as an antidote to American hegemony and globalization within and beyond the region. It also brings Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, and American perspectives into conversation with Micronesians’ recollections of colonialism and war. This transnational history—built upon a combination of reflective personal narrative, ethnography, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies—thus resituates Kwajalein Atoll as a pivotal site where Islanders have not only thrived for thousands of years, but also mediated between East and West, shaping crucial world events.

Based on multi-sited ethnographic and archival research, as well as Dvorak’s own experiences growing up between Kwajalein, the United States, and Japan, Coral and Concrete integrates narrative and imagery with semiotic analysis of photographs, maps, films, and music, traversing colonial tropical fantasies, tales of victory and defeat, missile testing, fisheries, war-bereavement rituals, and landowner resistance movements, from the twentieth century through the present day. Representing history as a perennial struggle between coral and concrete, the book offers an Oceanian paradigm for decolonization, resistance, solidarity, and optimism that should appeal to all readers far beyond the Marshall Islands.

Hardcover, 313 pp.

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