Monthly Archives: December 2014

‘FRANGIPANI’ BY CÉLESTINE HITIURA VAITE

‘Frangipani’ is the second instalment in Célestine Hitiura Vaite’s Tahitian trilogy. It brings back the story of Materena Mahi and her family.

FRANGIPANI

Summary

Smart and inquisitive Leilani has been her mother’s pride since the day she was born. When the girl arrived in the world, Materena promised herself that her daughter would have everything that’s needed in order to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

So now, as Leilani grows older, Materena is determined to succeed in keeping her word. She spares no expense on the girl’s education – she buys her a set of encyclopedias (because her daughter asks a lot of questions) and sends her to a Catholic school (because she needs to become a confident woman who knows her own worth). She teaches her, she shows her useful tricks, she gives her advices. Everything seems to be perfect, until Leilani falls in love… Materena suddenly realizes that her darling girl is not a teenager anymore, but a strong-minded young lady.

Review

Can the second book in a series be better than the first one? Célestine Hitiura Vaite proves that this is indeed possible. ‘Frangipani’ lives up to its expectations; I even dare to say it surpasses them.

Anyone familiar with the author’s other works can easily predict what to expect from this novel. Vaite remained faithful to her distinctive style: simple, unadorned, full of gentle humour. She is a master at transmitting emotions without using flowery prose. Her right-to-the-point words fill your imagination, giving you a chance to decamp to Tahiti and spend some quality time with Materena and her (truly extraordinary) family. From the very beginning you get immersed in this whimsical world, which – for quite a while – becomes your little universe.

Now, you may think that the plot is similar to that of Vaite’s previous book. To a certain degree, it is. However, this doesn’t make ‘Frangipani’ uninteresting. Despite the fact that the story – again – revolves around Materena and her seemingly monotonous life, the volume feels different from its predecessor. Mostly because this time the author focuses her full attention on a mother-daughter relationship, which – as we all know – is not always a smooth and easy ride; there are ups and downs, there are misunderstandings, there are tears of joy and sorrow. While describing the special bond the two women share, Célestine Hitiura Vaite doesn’t take sides. Instead, she remains an objective observer who empathizes with both females. She conveys their feelings and emotions, letting you understand the complexity of their relation.

The novel is set in French Polynesia, so – as you can expect – the country’s culture is also a very prominent subject. The clash between traditional values and modernity is neatly woven into the storyline, with Materena representing the former and Leilani the latter. The author tackles the issue with unusual grace. Her reflections are not overwhelming – the narratives are still first and foremost just amusing tales written to entertain – though they’re definitely thought-provoking. For some readers, especially those who has never come into contact with traditional societies, the book may be a real eye-opener; maybe a little shocking, but unquestionably immensely interesting.

It cannot be denied that Célestine Hitiura Vaite is an exceptionally talented writer, and this novel – just like the first one – proves it. It’s delightfully charming, thoroughly engaging, and deeply moving. It’s like a fresh breeze that brings the irresistible scent of frangipani. You can’t help but be seduced.

‘BREADFRUIT’ BY CÉLESTINE HITIURA VAITE

‘Breadfruit’ is Célestine Hitiura Vaite’s debut novel and the first volume of her Tahitian trilogy. The story, which is set in French Polynesia, concentrates on the daily life of Materena Mahi, her family, relatives, and friends.

BREADFRUIT

Summary

Materena lives in Faa’a together with her man, Pito, and their three children. She is a professional cleaner (because there is a difference between ‘a cleaner’ and ‘a professional cleaner’) and the best listener in all of Tahiti. She likes romantic songs and those beautiful movies about love. Contrary to Pito, who prefers movies with cowboys, action, and as little talking as possible.

After nearly thirteen years together, Materena wants nothing more than a ring on her finger. However, Pito is not very eager to give her one; because when you marry a woman, you tie a rope around your neck.

So when one night a drunken Pito suddenly proposes, Materena isn’t sure what to think. Nevertheless, she starts planning her dream wedding. Just in case the big day finally comes.

Review

This novel simply delights. With the very first sentence, you are transported to the wonderful world of French Polynesia, where life is deliciously uncomplicated, and not a day goes by without some flurry of excitement. And although you know that this is just a short visit, you want it to last. You don’t want to leave neither the island, nor its fascinating inhabitants.

Naturally, the country plays a prominent role in the book. I dare to say, it is one of the major characters. Constant references to Tahitian culture give you the most interesting insights into contemporary French Polynesia. And despite the absence of descriptions, you can easily feel the relaxed atmosphere of the Pacific. You can picture yourself leisurely wandering the streets of Faa’a, talking to people at the Chinese store, or winding down beside a lovely-smelling frangipani tree. As it turns out, you need no vivid imagery to be able to visualize the place. In this case, it is the story itself that lets the exotic setting be ‘seen’.

And the story is absolutely bewitching. What’s interesting, it doesn’t have a conventional plot. The novel is structured as a series of interconnected narratives, each of which concentrates on a different subject matter, and thus can be treated as a stand-alone tale. Of course, you may think that such storyline – with its focus on the daily lives of a few individuals – must be at least somewhat mundane, however I can assure you that this is not the case here.

The well-crafted plot is driven by the outstanding characters. These are they who make their actions engaging, amusing, and highly readable. Everyone – from Materena and Pito to Mama Roti to Cousin Giselle – is given a chance to shine with their own light. Célestine Hitiura Vaite created a group of people who are extraordinary in their ordinariness – they are defined, complex, believable, realistic. Any one of them could be your neighbour or a friend – someone you could confide to or go grab a beer with. It’s very easy to identify with these individuals, even for those readers who aren’t Pacific Islanders.

One of the most distinctive features of this book is the author’s writing style. Some say it’s childish, I say it’s absolutely brilliant. The use of direct, elementary language embellished with French and Tahitian words is very appealing. It’s not elegant prose with long, flowery depictions that you wish would magically disappear; it’s a simple composition written with warmth, passion, and gentle feminine humour. Célestine Hitiura Vaite certainly doesn’t try to impress with her writing skills, and yet her novel leaves everyone in awe.

‘Breadfruit’ is an outstanding piece of literature. It charms from start to finish, it educates, it gives a lot of enjoyment. Maybe it’s not the best read for men, but all the ladies will surely find it extremely attractive.