‘A Remarkable Rotuman Woman’ is a very personal memoir of the late Petera Veu written by her granddaughter, Jacinta Tonga.
Petera Veu was born out of wedlock on the Fijian island of Rotuma in 1919. She was a very rebellious child, difficult to keep up with, who didn’t quite fit in with her surroundings. As she grew up, she became even more independent. She married a man that had been chosen for her by her family. They settled in Juju and had seven children: five boys and two girls. One of them was Jacinta’s mother, Faga.
When Faga got pregnant with her second child, she wasn’t able to take care of her eldest daughter, so Jacinta went to live with her grandparents. Petera was determined to raise her granddaughter as a strong, confident lady who wouldn’t be afraid to express her opinions and assert her rights. And so she did. The two women maintained a close relationship until Petera’s death in 2000.
Let me tell you something, this is not your ordinary book. Reading it doesn’t feel like reading at all. It feels like listening to an amazing story narrated by your dear friend. It is personal; very personal even. And that is why it might not suit everyone’s taste.
At this point you may be wondering, what’s so fascinating about this tale? It’s just a story of one woman’s life. That’s it. Nothing special. Actually, it is special. First of all, it is a story of a truly incredible person who was a fighter, who was brave enough to go against the tide, and whose actions spoke louder than words. Second of all, it’s a beautifully written, heartfelt memoir in which Jacinta Tonga pays tribute to her dear grandmother – her guardian angel, her teacher, her mentor. The author’s love, respect, and admiration for Petera can be felt in each and every word. There aren’t many books with such a high level of unaffected honesty. It is a rare thing to find.
Now, you may say that personal memoirs aren’t for you. And that’s quite all right. But believe me, you don’t have to enjoy reading them to like this particular one. The book, apart from being a detailed account of Petera Veu’s life, is the most compelling cultural study with vivid depictions of Fijian society and its traditions. With the focus on Rotuman customs, Jacinta paints a broad picture of the South Pacific country she proudly calls home. Her book provides readers with fascinating, profound, and extremely valuable insights into the peculiarities of Fijian culture, both past (!) and present. If you are interested in gaining such knowledge, this is the perfect (and I mean perfect) title for you.
Now, the memoir is aimed (I’m not quite sure if intentionally) at readers who find more value in a book’s substance than style. The story itself delights, the manner in which it is told – not so much. I could write, of course, that the narration lacks creativity or the author’s distinctive mode of expression, however, I don’t really feel this is needed. Sometimes you just want to go beyond aesthetic qualities and focus on what’s most important. In this case that’s the message the tale conveys.
All in all, I would say the book is worth reading. Not everyone will like it – as we all know, tastes and preferences vary from individual to individual. Nevertheless, give it a try. I did and I definitely do not regret doing so.