BOOKS TO WAIT FOR

‘Scarlet Redemption’ by Lani Wendt Young (3rd book in The Scarlet Series)

Lani Wendt Young’s newest series revolves around Scarlet – a young woman who returns to Samoa for her sister’s wedding.

The first two books, ‘Scarlet Lies’ and ‘Scarlet Secrets’, have quickly won readers’ hearts. But the conclusion to this romantic and poignant story is yet to be released. What will the future be for Scarlet? Will she find her true happiness? Will she finally let her fabulous self to flourish? It all remains to be seen.

‘Where Petals Fade’ by Sieni A.M.

The author of ‘Illumine Her’ and ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’ has already announced that a new novel is in the works. What we know as of now is that there’s ‘a woman florist, a beach cottage, a graveyard, and of course a guy’. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Taking into account that Sieni A.M. is an unbelievably talented writer, it’s safe to assume that her new book will be just as good as the previous ones.

‘Attitude 13 Volume 2’ by Tanya Taimanglo

Those who have read Tanya Taimanglo’s ‘Attitude 13’ know exactly how wonderful the book is. This collection of short stories makes readers laugh and cry, reminding them at the same time what truly matters in life.

The author has mentioned that the second volume will be released. When? It is not known. But I am certain it will be a book worth reading. We have no choice but to wait.

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

Lehua Parker is an extraordinary person. Her talent, imagination, and brilliant sense of humour led to the creation of the Niuhi Shark Saga – an engaging trilogy for younger audiences. Do you want to know more about the books? Read on.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: How did you come up with the idea for the Niuhi Shark Saga?

Lehua Parker: Way back in second grade at Kahului Elementary, I saw a film called ‘Legends of Hawaii’. It told the story of Nanaue, the demi-god who could take shark or human form and how as a young man he lured people into the ocean and ate them. For decades I thought about how his human family hid him from the villagers and how his hunger was so great that he ate his friends. One wintry day, the snow outside was piled as high as the laundry in the hallway. Sorting clothes, I thought about Hawaii and this story again. I sat down and started what was going to be an adult novel that explored the relationship between a tourist and a Hawaiian demi-god. But these rascally kids kept popping up, and I wrote more about them than the adults. What if there was a kid who didn’t know he was a shark? What if instead of allowing him to prey on humans, his family did everything they could to keep him from becoming a monster? Once lightning struck and I realized Zader was allergic to water and Jay was a surfer, I abandoned the adult novel and started to write what became ‘One Boy, No Water’ and ‘One Shark, No Swim’.

PT: Was it difficult to write for a MG/YA audience? Did you encounter any challenges?

LP: The biggest challenge was writing an authentically Hawaiian story for island kids that would also be read by mainlanders and others not familiar with the culture. The first draft of ‘One Boy, No Water’ had a lot more Pidgin and far less explanation of cultural practices than the current third edition. I really wanted to write a story where island kids saw themselves and people they know that was also a story for kids who didn’t like to read. But the perceived market for these kinds of stories is very small, so I often found myself in a catch-22: the publisher didn’t want to invest in marketing because people weren’t buying the books in large numbers, but no one would buy books they didn’t know existed. In reaction to this, I wrote less Pidgin in ‘One Shark, No Swim’ and even less in ‘One Truth, No Lie’.

PT: The trilogy is based on Hawaiian tales and legends. Would you say that children and teenagers are drawn into stories of other worlds adjacent to our own?

LP: I think so. Fantasy and magic realism allow MG/YA readers to connect with difficult subjects in ways that are ‘safe.’ Zader is the ultimate outsider. On the surface, it’s because of his weird water allergy. But kids are smart. I think they look at Zader and see all the reasons kids are made to feel like outsiders to their peer groups, including race, religion, socio-economic status, scholastic ability, athletic ability, appearance, or sexual orientation. I think Zader’s journey from hiding who he is to using his weaknesses as strengths – and Jay’s journey, too – empowers kids to think about their own challenges differently.

PT: Although Hawaiian lore is omnipresent in the novels, you didn’t forget about the ‘real world’. You made Hawaii so vivid. Did you want to show readers what an incredible place the 50th state is?

LP: Oh, thank you! You’re too kind! Yes, I really wanted to show the real Hawaii, the Hawaii I grew up in, and not the plastic hula skirt version people think they know from television and movies. Remember I mentioned all the snow on the ground when I started ‘One Boy, No Water’? A lot of writing about Hawaii had to do with me being very homesick for the beach and island food. During the cold winter months where I live, local grocery stores and restaurants have ‘Hawaiian Days.’ They bust out paper flowers from India, masks from Papua New Guinea, samba music from Brazil, grass skirts from who knows where, and put canned pineapple on everything and call it Hawaiian. Frankly, some days it really gets on my nerves. Some of the writing was probably in reaction to this – you wanna see Hawaii? I’ll show you the real Hawaii!

PT: You were quite bold to incorporate Pidgin into the dialogues. Did you have any doubts whether or not this would be a good idea?

LP: I always wanted to use Pidgin – and to use more than what’s in the current editions. But books are funny things. They are commodities that have to meet market expectations and be profitable. The original publisher was targeting a mainstream USA market. For this market, there’s still too much Pidgin in the books. Outside of Hawaii, school kids really struggle, and at first glance, teachers and librarians think it’s poor grammar. Island kids and adults don’t have a problem with the Pidgin. They get excited to read it. But this puts me in a quandary for other stories I want to write in this world – how do I balance authenticity with marketability? Still trying to figure that out.

PT: Let’s focus on the characters for a moment. They are so well-developed! Who (or what) was your inspiration for them?

LP: Fearless authors and comedians like Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Amy Tan, Andy Bumatai, Rap Reiplinger, Kiana Davenport, and others showed me how to create characters that reflected the world around them. All of the characters in the Niuhi Shark Saga are either the kinds of people I had in my life – or wished I had – growing up. When I talk with island kids about the books, they all know somebody like Uncle Kahana, Jay, Char Siu, or Zader. I went to school with kids like Tunazilla, Alika, Maka, and Lisa Ling, and had teachers and neighbors just like the ones in the books.

PT: Which of the characters was most fun or difficult to write and why?

LP: I had the most fun with Ilima, the dog who is not a dog. When I first started writing her character, she was just a diva. But then I started to understand that she was so much more, and it became a lot of fun to think up ways to drop hints to the reader. One of the hardest was Jay in the third book. He goes through so many difficult things, and I hated that.

PT: What would you like readers – children and adults alike – to take away from the trilogy?

LP: To never be afraid to write your own truth. I hope people are entertained, of course, that the books bring back memories of hanabata days for adults and keeps kids engaged in reading a whole trilogy. But when I talk with school kids, I tell them that we each have our own stories, and those stories are important. If we don’t tell our stories, others will, and their false stories will become the truth for many. I tell them to be brave, to worry less about others say you can or can’t do, and just go for it.

PT: Will there be a continuation to the Niuhi Shark Saga?

LP: Yes. I have many more stories in my head, including some about Maka going to college, Lili and her birth mother, Ilima and Uncle Kahana solving other supernatural problems, and at least one book set during the time Zader was away in ‘One Truth, No Lie’ about a girl who can see ghosts and moves to Lauele and goes to Ridgemont with Char Siu, Maka, and Jay. There are also several short stories, including how Pua and Justin meet. Unfortunately, about two years ago, I put these stories on hold due to some ongoing challenges with the original publisher of the Niuhi Shark Saga that resulted in the eventual return of my rights to the series about a year ago. I’m hoping to return to them soon.

What are you working on right now and are there any new books on the horizon?

LP: A while ago, I decided to work on other projects, mainly short stories and essays which have been published in anthologies and literary journals. Right now, I’m working through a contract for five novellas based on fractured fairy tales. The first novella is called ‘Nani’s Kiss’, and it’s in ‘Fractured Beauty’, a boxed eBook set available in October from Amazon. ‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fi story loosely based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and features Polynesians in space. I’m just starting the second novella in the series, a sweet contemporary romance based on ‘Cinderella’. During the family vacation to Hawaii, Rell has to play nanny to her rotten younger step-siblings who do all they can to ruin her vacation and convince the Prince that Rell’s not the one. The ‘Fractured Slipper’ boxed set is scheduled for publication in December. I’ve got one more top-secret book in the works, but no publisher on the horizon. I’m hoping to return to Lauele Town and those stories in November.

‘ONE TRUTH, NO LIE’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Truth, No Lie’ is the third and final volume in Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga. It brings the much-anticipated conclusion to the story of Zader, a not-so-average teenager from the Lauele Town, Hawaii.

ONE TRUTH NO LIE

Summary

After Zader finds out who his birth parents are, his whole life changes immeasurably. The boy just knows that nothing will ever be the same again. But what he doesn’t expect is the ultimatum he will be given by The Man With Too Many Teeth, otherwise known as uncle Kalei.

Kalei makes Zader choose to either use his own teeth to brutally save his brother Jay’s life but live in exile from his Hawaiian family or… let him murder Jay.

Zader’s decision leads him on a great journey of discovery. He learns who he really is and realizes what, and who, truly matters to him.

Review

Let me start by saying right off the bat that this third volume of the Niuhi Shark Saga is just as good as its two predecessors. It is the perfect conclusion to the whole story and one that will stay in your head for days, making you think about your own life, the choices you make, and the importance of having a loving ohana (family).

I have to admit that the events in this novel took me by surprise. The first few chapters literally hit you like a thunderbolt, and you quickly realize that you probably won’t be able to predict what happens next. And you indeed can’t. The twists and turns are infinite. When you think you know in which direction the story is heading, the plot makes a sudden 180-degree turnaround and you are being left baffled; yet again. There is only one way to find out how the story turns out – you have to keep reading until you reach the last sentence. Which is not a problem, because the narrative draws you in from the very beginning. You become curious and interested, you want to know more. And you simply enjoy spending time in the magical world Lehua Parker has created.

Another reason why the book is so engaging are the characters. Zader, as the protagonist in the trilogy, is the focus of the story. His transformation from a teenager to a responsible young man is perhaps a little too idealistic, but definitely nicely portrayed. You can notice how he has changed from an insecure boy to a brave grown-up; how he has learnt to make choices and decisions and rely only on himself. That’s a great lesson, for children and adults alike.

Other characters are also given moments to shine. Especially Jay, who shows us how to fight through adversity, find positive in life, and never ever give up; and Maka, who lets us understand what it means to finally have something you’ve always wanted to have – a real family. Of course, uncle Kahana, Char Siu, Kalei, Pua, ‘Ilima, and the rest of the group make appearances as well, however they are much less visible than in the two previous volumes.

With this book Lehua Parker once again showed us her enormous talent. Her writing style and the language she uses are beyond compare. Everything – from descriptions to dialogues to wit and sense of humour – is perfectly dosed. Personally, I would prefer to see a bit more Pidgin in each chapter, but that’s not really a reason to complain. I have to say that you read Lehua Parker’s novels with pure pleasure. Whenever you finish one of her books, you instantly want to reach for another.

In the review of the first volume of the Niuhi Shark Saga I confessed that I don’t like children or young adult literature. But this trilogy is an exception. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you think. What can you want more?

‘ONE SHARK, NO SWIM’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Shark, No Swim’, written by Lehua Parker, is the second book in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It brings back the story of Zader and his Hawaiian ohana.

ONE SHARK NO SWIM

Summary

Life has been pretty good for Zader. With a little help from his uncle Kahana, he has learnt to manage his strange water allergy; the Blalahs has stopped bullying him; he got accepted into the prestigious Ridgemont Academy; and his brother Jay has taken up surfing again. Everything seems perfect; only it’s not.

Something keeps bugging Zader. The teenager can’t stop thinking about his dreams and new obsessions. Why is his mind preoccupied with knives? Why does he yearn for raw meat? And who are Dream Girl and The Man with Too Many Teeth? What do they want? No one gives the young boy any answers, even though there are people in Zader’s life who could probably unravel all the mysteries.

Review

Writing sequels is a very challenging task. You have to not only expand the story, but also – or rather more importantly – keep it interesting for the readers. And children, as well as young adults, can be a particularly demanding audience. But for Lehua Parker this seems to be no problem. The second book in the Niuhi Shark Saga is just as good as the first one.

Quite honestly, this volume doesn’t really feel like a sequel. It is simply a continuation of the tale; only this time you go deeper into the world the author has created. Now you are almost like a resident of Lauele Town, who dines at Hari’s and goes surfing at Piko Point every other day. You know the people, you know the place. And you are well aware that there is something going on with one of your neighbours, so you’re dying to finally uncover the truth.

‘One Shark, No Swim’ answers a lot of questions the reader might have had after finishing the previous volume. Zader’s past becomes clearer as new, and interesting, facts come to light. However, if you think that all the pieces in the puzzle will fall neatly into place before you reach the end, you are very much mistaken. Because with every single answer, more questions arise. Who? What? Why? When? Where? You may try to guess, you may try to predict what happens next, but you can’t bank on it. And that is the true beauty of this series.

Now, as the plot unfolds, you become more acquainted with the characters. In this book, Zader leads the way. He is a true protagonists, a central figure of the narrative. And although the story isn’t told entirely in the first person, you see the world through Zader’s eyes. You start to understand what he feels being a ‘different’ kid. You sympathize for him and cheer all the louder when he’s one step closer to discovering his true nature.

Of course, when mentioning the characters, you can’t forget about Zader’s family, especially uncle Kahana. This no-nonsense, wise, and funny old guy, sometimes treated like a big baby by his relatives, is a real star. Himself a man of many secrets, he is a mentor, a teacher, a protector, and a guardian of ancient Hawaiian culture. His complex persona makes him a little unknowable and therefore very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind having an uncle like Kahana, and I think you wouldn’t either.

The engaging plot and great characters are wrapped in beautiful words. Lehua Parker’s writing style is so fine that you can’t help but marvel at what she has created. It is not easy to write a novel that would suit children and adults alike. And yet she managed. The informal language (with an added bonus in the form of Hawaiian and Pidgin), vivid but not overwhelming descriptions, and a perfect dose of humour make this book an ideal read for any age group. No one will get bored, no one will be disappointed. It’s a title for the whole family. But be careful! It is possible that you will fight for the copy, so better buy two; or maybe even three… Just in case.

If you have read the first volume in the Niuhi Shark Saga, you literally have no choice but to read this one too. If you haven’t, you should catch up as soon as possible. Because the books are fantastic. Period.

‘ONE BOY, NO WATER’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Boy, No Water’ is the first volume in Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga – a young adult magic realism trilogy set in modern Hawaii. It tells the story of a boy named Zader and his family.

ONE BOY NO WATER

Summary

Zader, a thirteen-year-old boy, was adopted by the Westin family when he was just a baby. Being allergic to water, he is living in his brother Jay’s shadow, on whom he relies to keep him safe from the bully Blalahs.

When Jay, a rising surfing star, shows off his impressive skills on the board, Zader sits above the beach doing what he does best – sketching. No one is aware that Zader has secrets; only his uncle Kahana seems to know more about the boy and his past than he’s willing to share.

Review

I’ll tell you something about myself: I don’t like children’s or Middle Grade/Young Adult books almost as much as I don’t like fantasy/magic realism genre. I decided to give the Niuhi Shark Saga a chance exclusively because it is Pacific Lit. I bought the three titles, but I was still quite (or rather very) sceptical. But then I read a few pages. And a few more. And suddenly I was officially hooked.

So yes, I admit, this is a fantastic book. Lehua Parker wrote a beautiful tale full of magic and authentic Hawaiian vibe. She managed to bring the local legends back to life, giving readers – young and adult alike – a chance to get to know the Aloha State and its fascinating culture. Actually, the references to Hawaiian lore are what makes this novel stand out! It doesn’t deal with werewolves, vampires, or wizards – so omnipresent in today’s popular literature – but draws from the ancient beliefs. So we have sharks, and ti leaves, and the mysterious Hawaiian martial art of Kapu Kuialua (which is considered sacred and taught underground since the mid-1800s). All this definitely makes the story feel fresh, unique, original. And isn’t that exactly what we expect from a good book?

Now, although the novel is somewhat focused on Hawaiian culture, it has several underlying themes that teach valuable lessons, as befits children’s and Young Adult literature. Together with Zader and Jay, readers learn how important it is to have family you can always count on, to do what is right, to overcome your fears, to respect the nature, and to never forget where you come from. You can’t run and hide from your problems; be bold and brave; whatever happens in your life – face it! This is such an inspiring message for young people, who often struggle to find their place. Zader’s and Jay’s experiences will surely give them courage, and uncle Kahana’s wise words the needed moral guidance.

Speaking of uncle Kahana, I have to praise the characters. They are unbelievably well created and defined. From Zader and Jay to Char Siu and the Blalahs to uncle Kahana (who is my favourite), every one of them is a distinct person with a distinct voice and personality. They are complex, plausible, and easy to identify with. They are like us: they make choices and decisions – sometimes good, sometimes bad; they have their dilemmas; they learn from their mistakes. They are ordinary people; ordinary in their extraordinariness.

Of course, it’s one thing to build strong characters, but it’s another to show the relationships between them. Lehua Parker succeeded in doing both. The interactions between Zader and his brother or uncle Kahana, the interactions between the teenagers, and finally the interactions between the adults are incredibly well thought over. They influence the story, making it much more convincing and compelling.

Do you know what else makes this novel so believable? The language – Hawaiian Pidgin, to be precise. You’ll find it in every single chapter and, quite possibly, on every single page. To people who don’t speak Pidgin (or Hawaiian), it may cause some problems, but there is a dictionary at the end of the book, so you can always use it. I think the addition of local creole was a genius idea. Well, you can’t really write a story set in Hawaii and have your characters say ‘Thank you’ instead of ‘Mahalo’, can you?

‘One Boy, No Water’ is a must read. If you have a youngster at home or are looking for a great gift, this should be your number one choice. Because this colourful island tale is engaging and appealing, thought-provoking and amusing, uplifting and wonderfully hopeful. It is like a breath of fresh Hawaiian air taken on a sunny day. Unforgettable and not to be missed. But, let me give you a piece of advice here, buy all three books at once – after the first volume you’ll be hooked; just like me.

‘BE A BLESSING’ BY GLORIA SUA

‘Be a Blessing’ is Gloria Sua’s, a Samoan writer and the founder of Be a Blessing Ministries, debut book. It recounts the author’s journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and spiritual awakening.

BE A BLESSING

Summary

Life hasn’t always been easy for Gloria. Having endured traumatic experiences in the past, she is bound by negativity, grief, regret, pain.

Everything changes one seemingly ordinary day, when – at the age of forty-four – she is rushed to hospital in a very bad condition. Not knowing what is wrong with her and being scared to death, she suddenly hears a voice telling her she’s going to be okay.

Review

Although this book doesn’t even mention the Pacific Islands, it was written by a Samoan, and that means it is worthy of attention. Especially that ‘self-help/motivational’ is not a genre Pacific authors often venture into.

Let me start by saying that this book is about God. About finding God; about living in God; about trusting God. If you are not particularly interested in this type of literature, or if you are not a religious person, this is not a title for you. But if you feel lost; if your life seems meaningless or you’d like to change something in it (whatever that something is); if you’d simply like to do better, to do more, to give more but don’t know where to start, Gloria Sua’s words may be of great help.

The strength of this volume lies in the fact that it’s neither a typical motivational book nor a classic memoir. It’s a delightful mix of both. A motivational memoir (I guess that’s what I would call it) with a captivating story and plenty of wisdom dropped within. The author leads readers to Jesus by showing them how the Lord’s divine grace affected her own life. She shares her trials and tribulations in a very honest manner, so you quickly start feeling as if you were listening to a good friend. And that is exactly why you believe what she’s saying. Gloria Sua is not a preacher giving you a religious talk, but rather a pal offering you helpful advice. In a surprisingly comprehensible way, she explains certain Bible verses, providing you with a much better understanding of the Gospel. By doing so she lets you look at your life in a whole new – broader and wider – perspective. We all need that from time to time, don’t you agree? We need that wake-up call to remind us what truly matters. Because what we often think is important, in reality has no value at all.

Now, while the content is captivating, the author’s style certainly doesn’t blow away. That’s not to say the book is poorly written; it is not. It is a decent work, quite cleverly constructed and mostly very well put together. It just fails to impress. Which, and I have to stress that, does not diminish the book’s worth.

So would I recommend this ‘motivational memoir’? I would. It is a great read. Inspiring, enlightening, thought-provoking. After finishing it, you’ll surely ask yourself: ‘What has God given me as an assignment in life?’ And you know what? I believe (and hope) that Gloria Sua will help you find the right answer. So you too could be a blessing.

A CHAT WITH… DAVID STRINGER

David Stringer is a) a very talented writer and b) an all-around nice guy. His novel, ‘Islands of the Heart’, was published in 2012. Don’t be surprised if one day you see a movie based on the story, as he is now working hard to finish a screenplay adaptation of the book. Wanna know more about David? Read on!

DAVID STRINGER

Pasifika Tales: If you were to describe your book, make a short summary for the readers, what would you say?

David Stringer: Essentially Islands is a story of people, a family, with secrets — some are hiding what they have done, others what has happened to them. So it’s how they deal with these, how it affects their lives and eventually, how the victims forgive those who hurt them. Perhaps more importantly it’s about how people can come to forgive themselves. And it happens to be set in Samoa and New Zealand with Pacific Island and Maori characters, so I guess it also kind of explores what it might be like to be PI / Maori in modern New Zealand.  Along the way it also tells the story of a violent man who comes to understand that his violence is the cause of all his problems rather than the solution.

PT: How did the book come into being? Who or what was your inspiration?

DS: Way back in 2004 my wife and I went through a sad time when our daughter and grandson left to live permanently in Australia. They had lived with us for nearly two years and he had become almost like another son to us, so close. I have always been a writer by nature so I decided to write my way through the pain. As a story idea, I had once been friends in my youth with a half-Samoan guy whom I admired because he was completely fearless. I had once seen him see off a motorbike gang singlehandedly. It kind of intrigued me — what would it be like to be so strong (and violent) that you basically had to fear no-one? Every male’s dream perhaps, but does it come with a cost?  Is there a price to pay at the end?  And so WOLF was born and I knocked out a few chapters (30,000 words) and sent them to a reviewer in the UK, Robin Lloyd-Jones (a Tutor in Creative Writing at Glasgow Uni and also Booker Prize nominee). Robin liked Islands and became both a mentor and editor. It was he who eventually suggested that the real theme of Islands was actually “Forgiveness”  rather than simply the effect of violence on people’s lives. A light bulb went on in my head and I re-wrote the book to reflect this theme, which I saw was indeed closer to what I was trying to say.

My wife and I moved to Australia ourselves in 2008 and I was overjoyed to be selected in a group of 16 writers by the Gold Coast Council to be mentored into completing our novels. Duly on the last day of 2009 I typed “The End”. My group all did critiques which were like gold, and I consequently re-wrote substantial parts of the 120,000 word manuscript. After some years of disappointment trying to get a publisher (even an agent was impossible — there are about 4 listed on the internet in NZ and one of these was dead!!), I published Islands myself in 2012.

PT: The story doesn’t revolve around one character only. There are quite a few of them. Care to share which were most difficult/fun to write?

DS: Well, Wolf was based on that fearless warrior of my youth, Karl, but as he was mixed-race, as is Wolf, I also was inspired in part by my own son who is half Samoan. He too is a tough cookie who served in the NZ Army in Timor. He can be seen in the end of the promotional video for Islands on my website: www.islandsoftheheart.wordpress.com. He provides the deeper more introspective side to Wolf. I would say that Wolf is the most complex character who completes the greatest character arc, so the novel is probably most about him.

PEPE, Wolf’s mother, just rose up fully formed in my mind. I guess she is just everything I intuitively feel a mature woman should be — not perfect,  yet shining with this deep innate wisdom and love, and able to endure all the pain and suffering of this world in her being. She is the character I feel I “know” the best, even though she is female.

PASIFIKA would be my favourite character. He too is not based on anyone I know but there is more than a hint of NZ’s greatest ever comedian, Billy T James,  in his irreverent yet childlike nature.  Fika is a naïf, a Samoan Peter Pan, who remains in awe of the world as he sees it. He was also the favourite character of all my writing group friends. He was most fun to write, usually cracking me up with his remarks.

STEVEN, Wolf’s father, was difficult to write. A deeply conflicted man desperate to come to terms with both his ageing and his sins. Highly intelligent yet torn with the feeling he is a loser, and worse, that he deserves to be living in this deep dark hell. He is crucial to the story but I found him painful to create.

TANIA, Wolf’s partner, is Pepe in her younger days. She already has Pepe’s depth of feeling and wisdom, but she’s a lot more feisty — a Maori warrior-woman who backs down to no-one and is more than a match for Wolf.

LIN, Wolf’s sister / cousin, is however the character I am in love with. She is a woman as ethereally beautiful and mysteriously female as Wolf is brutally manly; and she has paid a terrible price for being so desirable to men. Although we don’t see a lot of her, she is pivotal to almost every major part of the story structure, and there was no way I wasn’t going to end the whole novel with her. I fantasize about adapting Islands to the screen, and the last, haunting scene is Lin’s.

PT: Many characters means many storylines. Was it difficult to weave them all into one coherent narrative?

DS: Well thank you for saying the narrative was coherent!!  I do fear others may be less kind as it IS a seriously complex set of storylines. I felt I needed them all to fully develop the reader’s relationship to each character. I felt that without this, the reader wouldn’t be able to buy into the whole theme of forgiveness as it is developed in the novel. However it means four POV (point-of-view) characters which is definitely stretching things a bit. However I felt I knew and loved my characters enough to be comfortable in their skins whenever I had to change POV’s.  I guess the readers will be the final judges on that.  To be truthful I didn’t really find the novel that difficult to write — the scenes just formed in my mind like watching a movie, complete with action and dialogue, and my job was simply to put it all down on paper using the right words. I did however have to expend time and energy co-ordinating dates, times and places!! The novel is structured so that we get to know the characters most deeply in Part One, then as it goes into Part Two (the descent into the Night-World, or World of Trials, to follow standard mythology), it all picks up pace and tension and so is more plot-driven.

PT: Although the novel is a family saga of sorts, you touched on a lot of different topics: from politics to multiculturalism to everyday problems people face. Why did you decide to create such a complex plot?

DS: Well as I said before, it began as a quite simple idea but quickly became complex as I found the characters had darker sides and histories. To a large extent, as the creator, you do know what your beginning and ending are, but you have to navigate this maze of pathways which connects the two. At the end of the day, I found I simply couldn’t tell Wolf’s story without also telling Tania’s, Steven’s and Pepe’s at the very least. And then there are Lin and Fika who are not POV characters but are so pivotal to the plot and themes they have to be drawn with some depth. As for the politics etc., well I always wanted to write a NEW ZEALAND novel. When I was about 16 my English teacher gave me a copy of “Man Alone” probably the most iconic NZ novel. I adored it. I revered it. I always wanted to write a NZ novel that could stand up there alongside of it. Hence it has material germane only to NZ and NZ readers in some parts. This can be a weakness too sadly, as I found that the literary world doesn’t really have too much interest in NZ. The huge USA market for instance is self-obsessed to an almost “Trumpian” degree and even in Australia, you are starting with a handicap if you are touting a book set in Wanaka rather than the baked outback.

PT: ‘Islands of the Heart’ – what does this title mean?

DS: It’s simply a double entendre: New Zealand and Samoa are such beautiful islands that they become a part of your heart once you have experienced them; and the people we love are also living in our hearts, yet they can become isolated and lonely, like islands, if we don’t cherish them enough.

PT: This book is your first novel. Do you have any plans to write more?

DS: Actually this is not my first novel — I wrote one in 1978 about which the least said the better. As for another? I truly cannot say. Writing Islands was probably the hardest and yet most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, and it’s tempting to say, “Hey, why not do it all again?” But to be truthful, the chances of getting published are very, very slim and it hurts deeply, very deeply, to labour so over your creation only to see it condemned to some kind of literary black hole where nothing, not even light escapes. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel pain over how much I love Islands and the way it has simply sunk into oblivion, and I really don’t have any desire right now to repeat that. I’ll give you an example. I entered Islands into the NZ Post Book Awards in 2013 I think it was. TV 3 ‘s John Campbell was the chief judge. I duly packaged up all six books requested and sent them plus my $150 entry fee. I never heard one word back. Not even an e-mail saying Hey thanks, we got your book but it sucks. Nothing. That Black Hole again!! I sent John a letter letting him know what I thought of the way they encouraged NZ writers…but he ignored that too.  To this day I do not know where those six books are!!  Into the Black Hole I reckon. It’s around then I decided, No this is just too hard — nobody really gives a damn, no-one is interested.

I have written short stories published in anthologies and an essay I wrote got in the top 20 out of 200+ in Australia’s premier international Essay competition, The Calibre Prize, which I’m quite proud of. They can be read on my website mentioned above. There is also a Facebook page for Islands with some more reviews and recommendations etc.   As I said, I fantasize about Islands being made into a movie — I am sure that in the hands of the right director a really powerful NZ movie could be made. I began work on this last year and the first 10 pages of script can be seen on the above website. I’d like to complete it one day but I think I need some encouragement and even that’s not readily forthcoming. Last year the NZ Screenwriters’ Guild ran a competition for new screenwriters called “Seed Grants” where you qualified if you had written a major work of any kind, including a novel — so I qualified, and I sent my script ideas in but didn’t get selected. Fair enough, I can hack that, but now this year they have changed the entry requirements so that only people who have a major screenwriting or related media project (TV etc), to their name may enter — so that excludes me.

PT: Which Pacific writers do you admire?

DS: A rather curly question for me, this. You see I have never identified as a Pacific writer until the Tusitala competition and finding your wonderful website. I simply considered myself a NZ writer. I must admit it’s a rather romantic idea though isn’t it, to identify with the magnificent Pacific, which is such a strong motif throughout my novel too, by the way.

I have read Albert Wendt’s “Sons for the Return Home” (and loved the movie), and also “The Mango’s Kiss”.  Do you know that the two main characters in this latter book are Peleiupu and Tavita — the names of my wife and me!!! And the characters eloped, just as we did hahahaha, and it’s set in Savaii — the same as my own novel. I’d love to be able to tell Albert about that.  I have become more aware of Pacific writers thanks to the above influences I mentioned and I particularly enjoyed the short stories in “Our Heritage — The Ocean”.  Two stood out for me — Moana Leilua’s “In Masina’s Shoes”, which gave me a good laugh, and the quiet horror of Kelera Tuvou’s “Box of Broken Tunes” really moved me.

If the opportunity arises again to create something “Pacific”, I will grab it with both hands, because thanks to you and The Samoan Observer, I really do feel like a Pacific writer now. And many thanks for that.

The interview is presented without edits.

‘ISLANDS OF THE HEART’ BY DAVID STRINGER

‘Islands of the Heart’ is a novel penned by David Stringer. It tells the story of a family whose members desperately try to come to terms with their past.

ISLANDS OF THE HEART

Summary

For Wolf, an ex-soldier, life has always been simple – when faced with a trouble, it’s best to settle it with your fists. But when his murky past catches up with him, fists no longer seem useful. Wolf knows he needs to leave to sort out his personal issues.

Wolf’s girlfriend, Tania, disappointed with her man’s departure, struggles with problems of her own. Wanting to uncover Wolf’s secrets as well as understand her own life, she decides to return to her childhood home.

A difficult past also haunts Steven, Wolf’s father, who can’t forgive himself sins he committed and Pepe, the soldier’s mother, who escaped to her native Samoa to find solace and peace.

Review

This novel is not an easy read. If you think you can take it and spend a relaxing afternoon immersing yourself in a pleasant world of exotic New Zealand and Samoa, I can tell you right away that this is not the case here. For this book is disturbing; profoundly disturbing. So unless you are ready for a bit of shock, foul language, and general ‘rawness’, leave it.

Having mentioned that, I should also mention that this is probably one of the best stories I have ever read. It is unbelievably complex, with twists and turns you couldn’t predict even if you were a master Jedi. The narrative doesn’t go from A to B in a straight (and usually boring) line. There are bends and curves, there is the unexpectedness of what’s going to happen next. Every few pages you get hit with yet another surprise. And, let me assure you, these surprises don’t stop until you reach the very end of the very last chapter.

The story is supported by a group of well-crafted characters. They are a mixed bag of personalities, whom you’ll either adore and admire or simply hate and despise. I would even risk a statement here that in them lies the key strength of this novel. Why? Because they are plausible; neither good nor bad. They have virtues and flaws. They have dreams and expectations as well as closely-guarded secrets they’re ashamed and scared to share with others. To put it simply, they are exactly like us.

Now, great characters alone are not enough to drive the plot. They need to interact with one another. David Stringer managed to paint a very real picture of the relationships people build. How they connect. How they depend on each other. How they place confidence in another person and how easily that trust can be lost. The characters in this book seem to be destined to affect each other’s lives. You may think that one wouldn’t exist without the other. And, you know what, that might be true.

Although the book’s main focus is put on people, the author didn’t forget to touch on cultural and political issues, which provide a sort of background for the characters’ personal tales. Wolf and Tania’s relationship is a top-notch portrayal of the ambiguous relations that native Maoris and Pacific Islanders have. David Stringer explores and accentuates the differences between the two ethnic groups, clearly showing that not all Pasifika people feel that they belong to the same family. The myth of loyalty among the Islanders has just got debunked.

‘Islands of the Heart’ is an excellent novel. Closely observed and artfully written, it reaches deeply into the core of the human nature. It won’t put you in a good mood, that’s for sure, but it will make you think. And, quite possibly, appreciate the power of love and forgiveness.

WRITTEN BY…LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’

This is a non-fiction book that commemorates the devastating tsunami that hit Samoa in September 2009.

Although a harrowing read, it is deeply moving, very informative, and extremely interesting. The survivor’s memories and the interviews with those who came to rescue them have been amazingly woven together, giving readers a thorough account of that horrible day.

For who: For non-fiction fans. For people interested in natural disasters. For those who appreciate literary craft.

‘Afakasi Woman’

This collection of twenty-four short stories gives readers fascinating insights into the lives of women in Samoa.

It is both light-hearted and serious, funny and sad, cheerful and thought-provoking. It’s a female voice from the Pacific region – strong female voice that touches on some of the most difficult issues. Definitely not to be missed.

For who: For all the people who think that women are important. And for those who prefer short forms.

The Telesa Series

The trilogy, which has its roots in Samoan mythology, revolves around a young American girl who initially comes to Samoa to meet her family, but ends up discovering her true self.

These are fantastic books! Excellently written and engaging, they transport readers into the world of ancient myths and legends, letting them discover the unknown side of the Pacific.

For who: For teenagers who love fantasy novels. For teenagers who hate fantasy novels (after reading these, they’ll love them). For adults who think they are too old and mature to read anything that’s a mix of imaginary world and romance.

‘I am Daniel Tahi’

This short novella is a companion book to the Telesa series. It tells the same story but from the male point of view.

Lani Wendt Young created a narrative that’s not only compelling, but also fun to read. Having been written in a very ‘manly’ manner, it is pretty enlightening (for us – girls) and often quite hilarious. A truly fantastic read!

For who: For girls (and women) who are dreaming of or looking for their Mr Perfect. Warning: you may suddenly heighten your expectations! Also, for all the females who think that Mr Perfect doesn’t exist – he does, at least in Lani Wendt Young’s books.

The Scarlet Series

The author’s newest series focuses on Scarlet – a young woman who, while coming back to Samoa to attend her sister’s wedding, learns that homecomings don’t always mean love, hugs, and happiness; especially when secrets from the past are involved.

Despite the seemingly light-hearted and humorous nature of the books, they broach some very sensitive topics, making the whole story multidimensional and unique. Fantastic, believable characters (with Scarlet taking the lead here) only add to the greatness that these novels are.

For who: For everyone who has already celebrated his/her 18th birthday. Probably a bit more suitable for women than men.

‘FREELOVE’ BY SIA FIGIEL

‘Freelove’ is Sia Figiel’s latest novel. It is set in Samoa in the 1980s and revolves around the first love experiences of a seventeen-year-old girl.

FREELOVE

Summary

Inosia Alofafua Afatasi, an inquisitive student from the Village of the Sacred Owl, is sent by her mother to the capital to buy three giant white threads. As she’s waiting at the bus stop, her young teacher of Science and Math, Mr Ioane Viliamu, stops to offer her a ride in his car. Sia just knows that the minute she steps a foot into the truck, her life will change forever.

Review

Sia Figiel is one of the best and most renowned Pacific writers, so whenever she publishes a book, you expect it to be at least very good. It was a long wait for ‘Freelove’ but, let me assure you, oh-so worthy, because the novel certainly does not disappoint.

It’s not a secret that Ms Figiel just loves breaking cultural taboos. She had done it in her earlier works and she did it again in ‘Freelove’. When it comes to the Pacific cultures, there are few greater taboos than those concerning human sexuality. Now, a person not familiar with Samoan or Pacific ways of being might think that this title is a coming-of-age story about young girl’s sexual awakening. But the truth is, this is just the outer layer – the most prominent one, yes; the most easily noticeable, yes; the most important, absolutely not.

The main characters’ relationship, although graphically described and thus attracting readers attention, serves a higher purpose. It’s nor there to shock people or make them blush. It’s not a cheap entertainment. It’s not even an attempt to contradict Margaret Mead’s studies. It is a way of showing the constantly changing culture, where tradition fights with modernity even though the two have already become closely intertwined – just like Sia’s and Ioane’s bodies.

The author managed to wonderfully expose Inosia’s journey in discovering her own identity, as both a Samoan and a woman. We observe her trying to remain a dutiful daughter while at the same time following her heart. It’s not easy to fulfil social expectations when you have your dreams and desires. Or maybe it’s not easy to fulfil your dreams when you’re restricted by social expectations.

Ioane, on the other hand, is a guide who leads Inosia through her journey of discovery. Not only does he show her a completely unknown world, he also throws a new light on the ancient traditions of the Samoan people. Ioane is Sia’s lover, soulmate, friend, teacher, and motivator. He encourages her to indulge her passions, but also reminds her to never forget her cultural roots.

What you might not see at first is the fact that the book is an encouragement for a dialogue. Sia Figiel created two truly fascinating protagonists, through whom she tried to convey her wisdom. By giving us Inosia – a somewhat naïve yet enormously clever girl with ambitions, who’s doing all she can to find herself in a collectivist society – and Ioane – a young but experienced man willing to sacrifice his future so that the girl he loves can lead the life she wants and deserves – she makes us ponder on the value on individualism and self-realization in a culture where ‘we’ is still more important than ‘I’.

The story itself is told in an unconventional and very poetic manner, which for some people might be a little overwhelming, if not purely irritating. The powerful prose indeed leaves readers in awe of the author’s talent and skills, but the occasional flowery descriptions might be unappealing. I should also mention that those of you who are not particularly romantic may find the second part of the book – where Sia and Ioane exchange love letters – quite annoying. I mean, how many times can you read somebody’s love confessions, especially if they are a bit exaggerated?

All in all, ‘Freelove’ is a wonderful novel, definitely worthy of your time and attention. It’s a highly perceptive, enlightening piece of literature, which provokes thinking and reflection on love, sex, personal growth, and – most of all – the importance of culture in a person’s life. It is a fairy-tale, but I won’t tell you if it’s with or without a happily ever after ending. You’ll have to find out for yourself.