Monthly Archives: March 2014

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘I AM DIVERGENT’ BY TANYA TAIMANGLO

Okay, let me explain how a 40 year old Asian Pacific Islander who now lives in the Pacific Northwest can be anything like the heroine, Tris from the bestselling trilogy by Veronica Roth.

I was born into a faction of sorts. Two if you want to be exact. If you were to peg me into the two Roth defined factions, it would be Erudite (The Intelligent) and Abnegation (The Selfless). Being raised by a Korean mother and a Chamorro father on Guam had its limitations, and blessings of course. I love my heritages, don’t get me wrong and have spoken of and written about it many times. However, I was bound by rules and regulations of the cultures which affected the adult I became. It is only in the last five years or so, perhaps factored by my father’s passing in 2007 that I have become freer. I have changed factions so to speak.

Focusing on being a Chamorro female, I was told many times that school came first. I was restricted from dating (my first kiss was at the age of 21 – but, don’t weep for me). I was pushed into a college degree that wasn’t my first choice. Vanity, like in Tris’s world, was frowned upon. I wasn’t allowed to feel pretty, or to focus on my looks. My father, the practical one, knew that these things fade. Any time I strayed too far from my set boundaries, I was yanked back by an invisible leash of obligation. In many ways, these restrictions saved me from risky behavior, but I have always wondered what kind of super woman I would be today, had these restraints not been placed on me. I probably wouldn’t cringe when someone pays me a compliment, especially regarding how I look.

I was scolded when at 18, I wanted a tattoo (it was all the rage with my girlfriends). Side note, it took another 18 years to get my first one. A tiger on my back with many hidden symbols (again, much like the Divergent characters).

I married a childhood friend, who is also Chamorro, when we were 30. When we were set to leave the island, I was struck by fear and excitement. I was scared to leave the tiny sanctuary of home and all that I knew for California. But, I was excited at the ripe age of 30 to start my life. I wanted to jump into and off that moving train. And in these last ten years of living in California, and now Washington State, the result of being a Navy wife; I have never felt more liberated. Now, is this a slap to the Chamorro childhood and upbringing I sprouted from? I would hope not. My Chamorro and Korean culture seeps into my everyday being. In my interactions with my new community, I am a culmination of all my experiences. I haven’t immersed myself so deep into the traditional American life that I have lost all that I was originally. But once in a while, I’m reminded that I don’t do things like we do ‘on the island’.

We celebrated my birthday and my daughter’s this past weekend. A friend from Guam was here. She overheard me tell my son to grab his ‘flip flops’ to go outside. I was scolded on the spot and then flushed red in the face. I got it. I didn’t use the term for slippers we use on Guam, ‘zoris’. I then had to explain to the two Navy wife buddies of mine why I was being chastised. In one sentence, I explained Guam terminology and the word origin being Japanese. This small oversight on my part made me question whether I was bringing my children up properly, my very Divergent children. But I dismissed my doubt quickly and enjoyed the rest of the party.

In many ways, we are all Divergent and it’s when people judge you for liking something outside of your cultural norms that my feathers get ruffled. I know who I am, where I’m from and where I’m going. Just because I’ve switched from a life of coconut trees and balmy weather to a life of chill winds and evergreens, it doesn’t make me less. It makes me Divergent. It makes me greater. And, I continued to evolve.

‘WE ARE THE OCEAN’ BY EPELI HAU‘OFA

‘We are the Ocean: Selected Works’ is a collection of narratives written by a famous Fijian/Tongan author and anthropologist, Epeli Hau’ofa, during his long and successful career.

WE ARE THE OCEAN

Summary

The book is a unique compilation of the author’s essays, public lectures, poems, and chapters from his earlier novel, ‘Kisses in the Nederends’. In his writings Epeli Hau’ofa tries to highlight some of the major problems of Oceania. He raises the issue of aid dependency and the lack of economic freedom, which is – according to him – one of the main obstacles to the region’s development. He shares his personal opinions on the state of the islands and encourages people to do whatever they can to preserve the wonderful culture of Pasifika. He also gives some ideas that could help not only the countries, but most of all its inhabitants avert the effects of globalization.

Review

I must be honest, this book is not an easy read. Unless you are an anthropologist or a person genuinely interested in the Pacific Islands, you probably won’t find it very engaging.

In most parts the author uses quite official, I would even say academic language. This makes the whole compilation very college-like. It is not something you’d like to read for pleasure. It is, however, something you’d like to study carefully, if you are passionate about the Blue Continent. For that reason, the book could be taken into account as learning material for the students of Oceania. Analyzing Epeli Hau’ofa’s views, opinions, and concepts could be an extremely valuable lesson, as his insightful words really make you think.

Of course, the compilation has also its funny side. Two chapters from the author’s earlier novel, ‘Kisses in the Nederends’, are simply hilarious. A person not familiar with that story may be a little surprised at first – well it’s a tale of an anus – but will surely end up laughing out loud. Hau’ofa’s sense of humour is great; even if it’s considered somewhat unconventional and a bit warped. Mind you, writing about such intimate part of the human body without crossing the line is quite an art; an impressive achievement. But, this is Epeli Hau’ofa we’re talking about here. And he was a true master of words.

Apart from the ‘academic’ essays and short pieces from the novel, the book also contains some very personal poems (I especially recommend ‘Blood in the Kava Bowl’), an eulogy to His Majesty King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV, and an immensely interesting interview with the author himself that was conducted by Subramani – a University of the South Pacific lecturer. These fragments definitely lighten the tone of the whole collection, making it slightly less serious and more pleasant to read.

So, is this book worthy of your attention? It is; absolutely and without the slightest doubt. But you must like this particular kind of literature. If you do, go for it. You won’t be disappointed. If you don’t, try Epeli Hau’ofa’s other works. I’m sure you will like them.

A CHAT WITH… SIENI A.M.

Sieni A.M. is a Samoan author whose debut novel, ‘Illumine Her’, has won the hearts of hundreds of readers all over the world. If you want to know what this sweet, lovely, and funny lady had to say about her book, life, and work, just read the interview.

SIENI A.M.

Pasifika Tales: Your first book, ‘Illumine Her’, is categorized as a Paranormal or Supernatural Romance. Do you like this genre?

Sieni A.M.: I do! I was a reader before I became a writer, and the supernatural/paranormal genre is what hooked me in. There’s something about this genre that can embed messages in a subtle way, or in a way that might appeal to readers that they may not otherwise want to read about straight up. When I started writing ‘Illumine Her’, Chase was the first character to evolve, and I knew he would be different. He was a lot of fun to develop.

PT: What was the inspiration for the plot? It is, I must say, very intriguing and unusual.

S. A.M.: Thank you! I wanted to write a love story – one that focused on a connection that served to draw out one’s purpose in life and the difficulties one might have in achieving them. This is what I love most about Alana’s character. She knows what she wants and tries hard to get there despite a little adversity along the way. After her father’s death, she mourns for him for years. It consumes and changes her. The element of death and the afterlife is something that has always interested me – it’s inevitable and shouldn’t be something to be feared – and I attempted to portray this in as reverent a manner as possible.

PT: Samoa plays a big role in your novel. I would even say that it is one of the characters. Your descriptions of the island life and traditions are beyond amazing. Was it hard to depict the place so faithfully?

S. A.M.: To be honest, it was the easiest part of the writing process because I drew on my experiences growing up there – the humidity, the rain, the power outages, etc. all plays a role. You’ll hear writers say this over and over again, ‘Write what you know’, and I followed that advice. But I also learned that if you’re unsure about something, research it. I did that, too. Everything fell into place afterwards.

PT: Your book contains a lot of Samoan words and phrases, which is absolutely fantastic. Do you think they make the whole story more realistic, ‘more indigenous’?

S. A.M.: I think they do. It can enrich the reading experience for both Samoan speakers and non-Samoan speakers, and there’s a glossary at the beginning of the book with the translations in English for ease of reference. I initially worried that some readers wouldn’t be able to connect to it for this very reason, but the message in the book is a universal one, and as a result I’ve had readers contact me from around the globe, which has been so encouraging and subsequently quashed my worries away.

PT: You were born and raised in Samoa. Now you’re living in Israel. How did you end up there? Would you like to come back to your home country one day?

S. A.M.: My husband and I moved here after university to work. It’s been our home for ten years and our kids were born here, but there’ll always be a place in our hearts for Samoa.

PT: What are you working on right now?

S. A.M.: I’m currently working on my second novel entitled ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’. It’s a coming of age, inspirational contemporary romance about an intuitive 15 year old girl who’s an artist and an angry 17 year old boy who’s trying to find his way. It’s a story about love in all of its forms, where it only becomes real when it is tested.

PT: When can we expect it?

S. A.M.: I’m aiming for an April or May release. Finger’s crossed! (and if I can get volunteers to look after my kids, I’ll write quicker!).

PT: Do you plan to write and publish more?

S. A.M.: I hope to. As long as the ideas keep coming in, I’ll always be drawn to penning them down.

‘ILLUMINE HER’ BY SIENI A.M.

‘Illumine Her’ is Sieni A.M.’s debut novel. It is set in contemporary Samoa and tells the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world. The book is categorized as a Young Adult Paranormal Romance.

ILLUMINE HER

Summary

After being away for three years and graduating from college in Fiji, Alana Vilo finally returns home to Samoa. Trying to forget about her father’s death, she starts a new job as a nurse. Not long after, everyone at her workplace anticipates the arrival of a rich benefactor who wishes to donate a large sum of money to the hospital. Alana is surprised when Chase Malek turns out to be an incredibly handsome young man, strangely knowledgeable of local customs and traditions. When she witnesses him reviving a patient who was pronounced dead a few minutes earlier, her curiosity becomes awakened. But before she can ask Chase any questions, he leaves the island.

Their paths cross once again when Chase comes to her house and Alana learns he will be the best man at her sister’s wedding. This time she gets a chance to find out some of his secrets. As they enjoy each other’s companionship, they discover that the feeling they share is love. Unfortunately, it seems that their relationship is not meant to be.

Review

If I were to sum this novel up, I would say it is full of unexpected twists and turns. Every time you think you can finally predict the ending, you are hit with yet another surprise. Fantastically plotted, well-paced story draws readers in from the very first page and doesn’t let go. Somewhat slow beginning turns out to be a great introduction. It sets the scene and describes the place so vividly that you almost don’t have to use your imagination.

Yes, Samoa. The country plays a big role in this book. Apart from graceful depictions of lush landscapes, Sieni A.M. makes constant references to the islands’ culture, traditions, and practices (ifoga for example). The use of Samoan words, which are explained at the beginning of the book, makes the whole novel even more realistic.

As for the characters, I must say they are lacking in variety. All females as well as all males are basically the same: kind, sensitive, caring, loving, courageous, honourable. Despite their issues and emotional turbulences, Alana seems to be the perfect woman, Chase – the perfect man. There is absolutely no one who could spice the story up. But of course this doesn’t mean that the characters are not believable, because they are. They are actually very easy to identify with, and this may certainly be quite appealing.

The novel is exceptionally well written. Its clear and simple language embellished with occasional bouts of gentle humour makes it a very pleasant read. Even the parts with long and flowery descriptions are not overwhelming – they only enrich the story.

‘Illumine Her’ is, without a doubt, a fantastic book. It explains different types of love: between a man and a woman, between a parent and a child, between brothers and sisters, between friends. It teaches us an important lesson: we should all find our place in this world, and when we finally do, we should always strive to improve. An amazing novel. Highly recommended.