‘Conquered’, Paula Quinene’s debut novel, is a historical erotic romance set in Guam. It follows Jesi, a young Chamorro woman, who finds love and happiness amid the turbulence of war.
Ever since the Japanese invaded her homeland, Jesi has been forced to hide in a cave. Her father and brother left the safe place a week ago. They told her they would return, but they still haven’t shown up. Suffering from loneliness and afraid that something might have happened to them, Jesi decides she needs to start her search.
As she battles her way through the island, her worst nightmare of being captured by the Japs comes true. She desperately tries to fight, but they are stronger. She begins to lose consciousness when someone manages to save her.
Not wanting to leave the rescued girl all alone, Johan Landers, an American soldier, follows her to the cave. The little time they get to spend together is enough for them to fall in love with each other.
An erotic novel written by a Pacific author? That doesn’t happen very often. Sex is still considered a difficult, embarrassing, and forbidden subject amongst Pacific communities, so discussing it publicly – in a book – is quite a rarity. However, there are writers bold enough to try to break down this taboo. Paula Quinene is definitely one of them.
‘Conquered’ is a novel in which eroticism is prominent, but not overly so. You might be surprised how little is actually described. Sex doesn’t fill the pages of the book to the brim – it is only an addition to the plot, not its main focus. I have to admit that the author handled all the lovemaking scenes very gracefully, minding the language but not sparing the juicy details. As befits a historical romance – let’s don’t forget the story is set in the 1940s – the book contains no lewd phrases. Ms Quinene maintained the highest standards of eloquence, choosing her words with due regard to the time period, setting, and the nature of her tale. Your cheeks probably won’t turn red, but your heart might start beating a little bit faster than usual.
The plot itself is extremely engaging, but it also feels slightly rushed. Everything happens very quickly, and you are not given enough time to savour the moments. Of course, not all readers will find this unappealing. The storyline flows smoothly from one event to another, and because it never slows down, there is no chance of getting bored. Yet still, most people crave depth and complexity, at least to some extent. In this novel both are virtually non-existent. The briefness of the scenes and the narrative as a whole is – unfortunately – more irritating than pleasing.
One thing Paula Quinene didn’t skimp on is Guam. References to the Chamorro culture are omnipresent. Each chapter unravels the beauty of the local customs and traditions, letting you either discover the exotic and foreign world or come back to the place you already perfectly know. What is more, the book serves as a fantastic history lesson which brings to life the tragic and painful period in Guam’s past – the Japanese occupation of the island. We tend to forget that World War II in the Blue Continent was not limited to Hawaii only. This title is a wonderful reminder. Wonderful and well-researched. The author made sure to check the facts, so this part of the story is very believable and convincing.
Can the same be said of the characters? Absolutely. Both Jesi and Johan are richly developed protagonists who change considerably throughout the course of the novel.
Jesi, although young and inexperienced, is a real fighter. The cruelty she witnessed during the occupation has toughen her up, shaping her adult personality. Being Chamorro, she has the utmost respect for her parents, yet she is not afraid to do things her own way. A gentle rebel of sorts who impresses with bravery and resilience.
Johan, on the other hand, is a mature man. He battles his own demons and is well aware of the fact that life is no bed of roses. Having lost his wife and desire to live, he has dedicated himself to serving his country – he fights, so he can forget. It is not until he meets Jesi that he rediscovers the purpose of his existence and the power of love. He starts to understand that the commitment made to the US Army cannot be more important than the commitment made to his significant other.
We all must agree that Paula Quinene did something quite extraordinary with this novel – she proved that with a little creativity you can tackle even the most taboo topics. Reading ‘Conquered’ is a very pleasant experience. It’s a daring book any fan of Pacific literature will appreciate and enjoy.