‘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.
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.
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.