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