Tag Archives: Cook Islands

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history. 

Review 

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

‘THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA: PADDLING THE PACIFIC’ BY PAUL THEROUX

‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’ is Paul Theroux’s memoir-cum-travelogue that documents his journey across the Blue Continent.

THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

Summary

What does a man do when faced with a failing marriage and the possibility of having skin cancer? He starts his fight. He’s determined to win the battles. Or he gives up and does nothing. Or – just like Paul – he runs away; as far from his home as he can. Is there a better destination that the alluring islands of the Pacific? Absolutely not.

Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, he gets his first taste of Oceania. The mysterious Blue Continent and an overwhelming need to be alone in the wilderness makes him grab his collapsible kayak and venture into the great unknown. Trying to immerse himself in the indigenous cultures of the region, he travels from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Archipelago, from Vanuatu to Fiji, from the islands of south Polynesia to heavenly Hawaii. Each of these places lets him escape his bitter reality, until – finally – he rediscovers the flavor of life anew.

Review

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I have. And this is THE book.

Yes, I absolutely love it. This is one of the best titles in the travel genre, hands down. It’s funny, engaging, and it shows rather than tells. But it also annoys me beyond words. Literally, it makes me utterly mad. As it is quite rude to commence with the downsides, let’s start with the positives, shall we?

It cannot be denied that Paul Theroux possesses the literary genius. His prodigious talent with words captivates readers, compelling them to devour page after page until they swiftly reach the end of his more or less irritating yet extremely intriguing story. And even though he states at the end of the last chapter that he is not a travel writer, this personal account proves otherwise – it is the very epitome of the ‘been there, wrote the book’ genre; and a terrific one at that!

It is impossible to miss his flowing prose that is thoroughly appealing, impeccable language, or the authentically funny (at least more often than not) sense of humour. The author doesn’t bother readers with detailed and vivid descriptions of the places he travels to. Instead, he devotes his attention to people – mainly native inhabitants – and their ways of being. He absorbs everything that surrounds him – from the atmosphere of the so-called paradise to the idiosyncrasies of the cultures he encounters. He explores, he observes, he draws his own conclusions. He is not afraid to ask even the most personal questions, and the more honest the answer the more happy he seems to be. Because the islands clearly cheer him up. What started as a great escape, turned out to be a great and often amusing adventure. Which, by the way, should surprise absolutely no one – when in paradise, you can’t help but beam with sheer happiness. Even if that paradise sometimes uncovers its darker side.

Yes, let’s be frank here, no corner of this globe can be given the label of ‘a wonderland’. But if there is one place on our planet Earth that can be regarded as the slice of heaven, this is Oceania. With its kind, smiling, welcoming people it is the closest thing to paradise you’ll be able to find. And yet Paul Theroux failed to notice that. Throughout the book he proudly displays his sardonic attitude, throwing around disgustingly subjective comments about the locals that are genuinely hard to read at times. He writes, for example, that the prettiest women he saw in the Pacific were in Tonga; only to add in the very same sentence that they were also ‘the ugliest, hairy things with bad skin’. Additionally, you may learn that the people of Tanna were (I consciously retain the past form; after all, we don’t know if this viewpoint still holds true for Mr Theroux today) ‘small, scowling knob-headed blacks with short legs and big dusty feet’. Samoans – on the other hand – are lovingly described as ‘rather gloatingly rude’. It seems that only the inhabitants of the Cooks deserved some compliments. In Theroux’s eyes they weren’t ‘greedy or lazy’; actually, they were ‘hospitable, generous, and friendly’. I can understand having your own opinions. But I can’t understand being a xenophobe.

Is this book worthy of your time and attention? Absolutely. It is an outstanding piece of travel literature. It is entertaining and…well…very informative. It lets you discover that one may be a terrific writer, but a not so terrific person.

A CHAT WITH… RACHEL REEVES

Rachel Reeves is a journalist whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu in the Cooks. In 2014, she was commissioned to write a book that would tell the story of Cyclone Martin. This is how ‘Mātini’ came into existence. If you want to know more about this wonderful title, just read the interview.

RACHEL REEVES

Pasifika Tales: ‘Mātini’ is not your ordinary non-fiction book. It tells a powerful and unbelievably tragic story. Why did you decide to write it?

Rachel Reeves: I was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust, whose board includes cyclone survivors who wanted their stories recorded for two reasons – for the sake of their offspring and for the betterment of disaster management in the Cook Islands and the greater Pacific Islands region.

PT: So you were chosen as the author. How did that happen?

RR: I have no idea! By the grace of The Big Man Upstairs. I owe the opportunity to John Woods, who was my editor when I worked as a reporter for Cook Islands News. When the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust approached him about what it would take to publish a book, he suggested me as a possible writer. He then trusted me to deliver on deadline even though I absolutely did not trust myself.

PT: Your paternal heritage derives from the Cook Islands. How personal is this book for you?

RR: Very. My grandma’s from Atiu, not Manihiki, but the Cook Islands are part of me. Writing this book was for me about telling a particular story, but it was also about highlighting the nuances that make the Cook Islands and the Cook Islands people so special.

PT: Was it difficult to hear all those first-hand accounts from people who had been lucky enough to survive Cyclone Martin?

RR: Yes. I got sick a lot. I felt a lot of sadness and fought a lot of tears. But whenever it was tough I thought about how much tougher it had been for the people I was interviewing.

PT: Whose story moved you most?

RR: I can’t answer that. I felt every story in my soul. Watching big island men cry over lost children was emotional, but so was talking to people who were overseas when the cyclone hit and couldn’t get through to Manihiki when they tried to ring their families.

PT: You had a chance to visit Manihiki, didn’t you? Does the 1997 tragedy still linger over the Island of Pearls?

RR: There are psychological reminders and there are also physical ones – memorial plaques, new emergency shelters, cracked foundations, vacant buildings. Locals say there’s a sense of emptiness now that wasn’t there before. Before the cyclone, Manihiki’s population was 668. Today it’s about 250. Cyclone Martin wasn’t the only reason for the population decline – there was also the decline of the contraction of the black pearl industry, and the larger national depopulation trend – but many people believe it bears the greatest responsibility.

PT: You don’t collect royalties from this book, which is very admirable. Who benefits?

RR: The Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. The trustees are Manihiki people who care a lot about their island and their people. Two are cyclone survivors.

PT: It can’t be denied that you are an extremely talented writer. Do you plan to write more? Is there a new book on the horizon?

RR: I’m still coming to terms with all of this! Writing a book has always been my life goal, and honestly I’m still pinching myself. But now that this one’s finished, I’m dreaming about – and also dreading! – doing it all over again.

‘MĀTINI: THE STORY OF CYCLONE MARTIN’ BY RACHEL REEVES

‘Mātini: The story of Cyclone Martin’ is a chronicle of the tragic events that took place in the Cook Islands in 1997. It was written by Rachel Reeves, a young journalist from California whose paternal heritage derives from the island of Atiu.

MATINI

Summary

For the inhabitants of two small villages of Manihiki Atoll, November 1st has begun just like any other Saturday. It is the end of pearl harvesting season, so the farmers are quite busy with their usual chores. The sea is high, but people aren’t overly concerned. It is, after all, the time of year when storms are the norm. And Cyclone Martin is said to be nowhere nearby.

But then something changes. Coconut trees start to fall down. Fish are found lying on the ground – in places, where they aren’t supposed to be. There’s rubbish everywhere. Within hours, Manihiki is hit by the series of waves. The Islanders know that Mātini has officially arrived.

Review

Rachel Reeves was commissioned to write this book by Cook Islands News and the Cyclone Martin Charitable Trust. She was given seven months. Only seven months to research and deliver a finished story. She managed to do just that. The result? A masterpiece, pure and simple.

‘Mātini’ is not a pleasant read – a chronicle of such tragic occurrences can never be considered enjoyable – and yet it’s impossible to put it down. Although written in a journalistic manner, there’s magic at work here. I must admit, in all honesty, that Rachel Reeves has a gorgeous way with words. Her cinematic approach makes every single scene unveil before your eyes. You don’t just imagine Manihiki during those dark days in November, you feel as if you were actually there. Everything is incredibly vivid, and you can’t help but be moved by this emotionally-charged narrative.

Especially that the story is told through the eyes of Cyclone Martin survivors. The author shares the accounts of people who experienced ‘waves tall as the coconut trees’; who experienced fear, helplessness, and unimaginable despair. The disaster changed the lives of all Manihikans. But for some of them, particularly those who lost their relatives, it was the most agonizing night ever. The Islanders’ exceptional courage, willingness to fight, refusal to give up must be admired. Not once do they express their resentment towards God or Mother Nature. Most of the atoll’s residents don’t blame the Cook Islands government either. They accept that natural calamities happen. They say it is the price of living in paradise. However, in the case of Cyclone Martin not everything can be explained so easily.

Apart from being a heart-rending record of one of the worst catastrophes in the Cook Islands’ history, the title is also an extremely valuable educational resource. It is a manual on what not to do that should probably be read by every aid agency worker and every government official that deals with disaster management. Although the author makes no accusations, she closely examines the performance of those responsible for dealing with emergencies. She documents mistakes that were made. And she raises questions: Could the cataclysm have been averted? What could have been done differently? Who should have been held accountable? What steps must be taken in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future? The book doesn’t provide clear-cut answers, but it sparks ideas that will hopefully incite discussion.

‘Mātini’ can’t be praised enough. It is an exquisitely written, embellished with incredible photographs and beautiful illustrations piece of non-fiction literature. It gives hope. It enlightens. It makes you think. It reminds you to appreciate your blessings. It memorialises those who survived Cyclone Martin, and those who didn’t. It is a book of remembrance that should be treasured. Superb, absolutely superb!

Ms Reeves, chapeau bas!

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

‘FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS’ BY JAMES NORMAN HALL, CHARLES BERNARD NORDHOFF

‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’ is a travelogue written by James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Nordhoff. It recounts their various adventures in the Blue Continent, mainly in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. This is the second book the two men co-authored.

FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS

Summary

Fascinated by the islands of the South Pacific, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff decide to set out on a journey that would fulfil their dream of an escape.

After making a landfall in Tahiti, the two friends choose to take different routes. However, before going their separate ways, they arrange for a rendezvous at a distant date.

As they travel from shore to shore, Hall and Nordhoff encounter the most charming and intriguing individuals, who warmly welcome the unexpected guests into their little worlds.  The visitors are given a rare chance to observe local communities and get to know their customs, traditions, and beliefs. Leisurely wandering through the lush paradise, they spend their time listening to amazing tales, legends, and stories of the past. They also learn quite a bit about the islands’ half-caste population – people that belong ‘neither here, nor there’.

Review

This travelogue is a classic of the South Seas genre. It’s written in a style reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, so you may imagine that it not only entertains and delights but also educates. The book is a fantastic history lesson. Like a time machine, it takes you to the beating heart of colonial Polynesia, where you get a guided tour of some of the most fascinating places on Earth. It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is.

As this title is a collaboration between two authors, the stories vary widely. James Norman Hall focuses mainly on society; his accounts are filled with perceptive depictions of people’s daily activities, habits, and practices. He is the one that shows readers the now-famous ‘Pasifika way of life’. His careful and extremely detailed observations provide startling insights into the islands’ culture of the early 1900s, letting you understand this unique corner of the globe slightly better. Especially valuable are the notes he took during his unplanned stay on Rutiaro – the lonely atoll ‘as little known to the world at large as it has always been’.

Charles Nordhoff, on the other hand, is a storyteller. With a thousand words, he paints a vivid picture of the colourful lands, golden shores with swaying palm trees, azure lagoons sparkling in the dusk. His poetic imagery, which appeals to all the senses, allows you to experience everything he describes – from a voyage aboard an old schooner to a friendly gathering on the beach. It’s quite impossible not to be moved by Nordhoff’s writings – each and every tale exudes great charm and yet is still solidly anchored in reality.

Two authors usually mean two different styles. You would think this couldn’t result in a good book. Well, Hall and Nordhoff’s marriage was a perfect one – an ideal combination of talent, vision, and skills. This can certainly be seen in ‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’. The travelogue is characterized by coherent, smoothly flowing narration that is a pleasure to read. It might not be the most acclaimed work of the two friends, nevertheless it deserves to be considered a masterpiece – an artfully written, unraveling, and thoroughly enjoyable. And as such it should never be forgotten.

I could not recommend this title more. It engages both the mind and the spirit. It won’t appeal to everybody, but if you are a Pasifika aficionado, give it a try. It is one of the best of its kind.

‘DON’T WALK UNDER THE COCONUTS’ BY ROBERT BORDEN

‘Don’t Walk Under the Coconuts’ is a memoir penned by Robert Borden. It recounts the adventures he and his wife shared while living on the island of Aitutaki.

DON'T WALK UNDER THE COCONUTS

Summary

In order to escape harsh Montana winters, Robert and Mary Lou decide to look for a nice, warm place they could call home during the cold season of the year. So when their friend recommends a small island in the Cooks, they are more than eager to pay a visit.

Delighted with their newly found paradise, the couple starts to enjoy everything it has to offer. Robert devotes himself to fishing in the tranquil waters of the lagoon, while Mary Lou takes pleasure in leisurely strolls by the shore. As they both spend more and more time with the friendly Islanders, they learn how to celebrate their freedom and appreciate the simple things in life. And it turns out that even traversing the roads on a motorcycle can be an unforgettable experience.

Review

It can’t be denied that this is a very pleasant book. Not unusual, not particularly riveting but simply pleasant. It has the ability to transport readers to one of the most wonderful places in the world, so prepare yourself for an amazing and quite emotional journey.

What makes this memoir so exceptional are vivid descriptions. Robert Borden managed to paint a very clear picture of Aitutaki, exposing not only the island’s scenic beauty but also the kindness and warmth of its inhabitants. You feel as if you were actually there – in a boat trying to catch your first barracuda, in the village watching little kids play around, on the beach admiring spectacular red sunsets. And you don’t want to leave, for this place seems to be a true slice of heaven on earth. The author’s words capture the imagination. You get drawn into the story without even noticing. Not because it is a thrilling account of one’s adventures, but because it lets you unwind and relax.

That being said, I should mention that some parts of this book may appear slightly tedious. If Robert Borden could give you a hint what the majority of his narratives are about, I believe he would say: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gonna do some fishing, then we’re gonna do more fishing, and we’re gonna be fishing some more’. Oh yes, there are a lot of fish in this sea of tales! Fortunately, they do not fill the pages to the brim. The author shares his first-hand knowledge, so you get a rare chance to discover the peculiarities of life in the Cook Islands. And you quickly realize that to be truly happy you need much less than you think you need.

As you may (or may not) imagine, Robert Borden is a natural storyteller. His reminiscences are a pleasure to read. They are exceptionally well written and imbued with wit, humour, and great charm. As if that wasn’t enough, there is this incredible epilogue that opens a mind and touches a heart, leaving you filled with emotions.

If you’d like to escape to the place of sheer bliss, this book will get you there. It’s a wonderful memoir, perfect for all those people who want to forget about their problems and just relax. Are you one of them? If yes, do not hesitate to embark on a journey to the Cooks.

‘THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST: TRAVEL TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY GRAEME LAY

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ is a compilation of fifteen stories written by Graeme Lay. They are the collected accounts of many journeys the author took during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST

Summary

In the Pacific region life is never dull and Graeme Lay certainly knows it. Travelling from country to country, he discovers the best of what each island has to offer.

In the Cooks, he consumes fiercely alcoholic bush-brewed beer and spends his time in the famous waterfront bars, rubbing shoulders with the locals. He then departs to Samoa, where he retraces the final days of Robert Louis Stevenson and learns quite a bit about the phenomenon of fa’afafine.

In Tonga, his next destination, Graeme is forced to impersonate a Mormon missionary while on Niue he gets a chance to cruise along the coast, attend the village church service, and witness a social gathering on the occasion of the Governor General’s visit.

During the voyages to French Polynesia, he searches for Herman Melville’s valley, uncovers the shocking secrets of Gauguin, finds out how to have a honeymoon, gets to know the connection between television and birth rates, and locates the heart of Tahiti.

Review

If you have ever wanted to find a perfect example of a travel book, search no more – you’ve just found it. This title is the quintessence of the genre; it’s a book that will literally take you to the magical islands of the Blue Continent the moment you start reading its first sentence. I’m not sure if this is the result of Graeme Lay’s extensive knowledge of the Pacific region or his remarkable storytelling skills. It might be both actually.

The stories in the compilation are as varied as the isles of Polynesia. This is probably why the volume shines with so many different colours. Some of the tales are just humorous pieces, written to entertain readers and bring them a little joy and happiness. Others are educational, thought-provoking narratives that not only help you understand the cultures of the South Seas but also let you notice all the distinctions that exist between traditional and modern societies. I must say, this wonderful mix is like a refreshing cocktail made with a bunch of exotic – sometimes unusual but always tasty – ingredients: personal anecdotes, adventure yarns, depictions of faraway places, and interesting ethnological facts. It’s something you could drink, excuse me…read, any day of the week.

The book is beautifully constructed. It’s good old travel writing with a strong focus on characters and places. Vivid portrayals of both people and the tropics will make you long for ‘the paradise’ so badly that you will instantly want to follow in the author’s footsteps; just to sit in a bar, listen to the ocean, and chat with the friendly natives. It cannot be denied that Graeme Lay is a man of enormous talent. Whatever he chooses to describe, he does it in the most engaging way possible.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ is a delicious read. It’s charming, insightful, highly compelling. It’s your ticket to the South Pacific. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to set out on this journey.

A CHAT WITH… KATHY GIUFFRE

Kathy Giuffre is a professor of sociology at Colorado College and the author of a compelling memoir, ‘An Afternoon in Summer’. Here’s what this lovely lady had to say not only about her book but also about the place she once called home.

KATHY GIUFFRE

Pasifika Tales: You and your sons spent one year in the Cook Islands. How exactly did you end up there?

Kathy Giuffre: I have always had an interest in Polynesian culture, especially in the arts, and had travelled some in the South Pacific – although never to the Cooks. I’m a college professor and I had a sabbatical year coming up during which I had the opportunity to be paid for a year to go somewhere and do research. I specifically chose the Cook Islands because I had heard and read about the vibrant art world that exists there. I was interested in trying to understand why this community had such an exceptional outpouring of creativity. So I was really on the island as a researcher, but when you live on an island with fewer than 10,000 people for a whole year (especially if you have kids with you and you are living in a house with a local resident) it is impossible not to become part of the community.

PT: What is your biggest memory of that place?

KG: There are so many – but one thing I remember very vividly is sitting in a chair in the workroom of our house one night, talking on the telephone long distance to my friend in Switzerland and holding the receiver of the phone out so that he could hear the incredible sound of the enormous tropical storm that was pounding down on our roof. I loved the wildness of the storms – especially when everyone was snug and safe inside the house.

PT: . Your life changed quite a bit during that ‘Pasifika year’. How do you recall that time?

KG: I think I really came into my own during that year – even though I was 39 years old when I arrived. I still try to treat the world in the ‘Polynesian Way’ even though I am now back in the United States. I try not to lose sight of how to live a life that is concerned with generosity, kindness, and human relationships rather than thinking about ‘getting ahead’ or getting material objects.

PT: What did you like most about the islands?

KG: The people I met are people whom I love and whose friendship I treasure. I really feel that I was taken in and taken care of at a time that was pretty difficult for me as a single mother with two small children and when I was really not at my best emotionally.

PT: And what did you like least?

KG: Spiders! Enormous hairy spiders!

PT: What were your sons’ impressions of that ‘tropical paradise’?

KG: It was an enormously happy year for my children, which is interesting because we lived all together in one small room of the house and they had basically not a single toy. No TV, no computer or computer games, none of the stuff that we think kids need to be happy and entertained. They spent their time climbing trees, playing in the garden or on the beach, using their imaginations – it was great for them. When we came back to the US we got rid of our TV and have never regretted it – life is better without all the possessions that I once would have thought we needed to be happy.

PT: Did you learn anything from the Islanders?

KG: Absolutely – I learned, most importantly, how to embrace the ‘Pacific Way’ of life. I still try every day to be a little more Polynesian, to take things at a slower pace, for instance, and to think about being generous as a really important value.

PT: What, or who, inspired you to pen down your memories and write a book?

KG: Every now and then, I would send a group email to my friends back in the United States.  And a couple of my friends thought the emails were really funny and could be turned into a book. Those and my journal were the basis for the finished book. But really the reason that I wrote it was that my children were so young when we went that I was worried that they might forget what this year in paradise had been like, how wonderful our life was then. So I wrote the book for them, as truthfully as I could, so that they would always have something to help them remember.

PT: Have you had a chance to come back to the Cook Islands? If not, would you like to? Maybe you could write a sequel.

KG: Yes, we all went back about five years ago to see Emily again and so I could show my husband all the places that he had heard so much about and to have him meet all the people I had loved so much. We were only there for a couple of weeks, though – not enough time to do more than basically say hello to everyone – not enough time for a sequel, for sure!

PT: If someone offered you a chance to move to Pasifika, would you agree? Do you think you could actually live there? Or was it only a one-time adventure?

KG: I talk with my husband all the time about moving back – especially when it is bitterly cold and snowing here in Colorado. But if we do go back, I think we would not go back to Rarotonga – we would head elsewhere, probably. Not because Rarotonga is not wonderful, but because the year that I spent there was so magical to me, so perfect, so much exactly what I needed that nothing could ever live up to its memory. Better to keep that memory intact and head out for new adventures someplace we have never been.

‘AN AFTERNOON IN SUMMER’ BY KATHY GIUFFRE

‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything & Finally Falling in Love’ is Kathy Giuffre’s memoir that recounts her twelve-month-long sojourn in the Cook Islands.

AN AFTERNOON IN SUMMER

Summary

Kathy, a single mother of two young boys, decides to spend her sabbatical year researching indigenous art of Rarotonga. As her new boyfriend agrees to join her, she happily books a trip for four, hoping to spend a wonderful time with her loved ones. However, things start to get complicated when Gregg suddenly announces he isn’t coming.

Left alone with her sons, Kathy arrives in the Cooks only to find out that her landlord has vanished and she has no place to stay. Despite her miserable situation, she chooses not to come back to the US. She meets Emily, an 82-year-old Maori woman with a house by the ocean, who offers her a room.

As time goes by, Kathy and her sons discover the wonders of the islands. They make friends with local people and start slowly feeling at home. What is more, Kathy reconnects with her old love.

Review

A travelogue-cum-memoir written by a woman? That’s a rare thing to find. Even today, travel writing is still considered a male domain. It’s a real pity actually, because ladies do know how to turn an interesting journey into a gripping narrative. You don’t believe me? Just read Kathy Giuffre’s book.

Of course, this title won’t take you on an exciting adventure to the tropics. No. It is something more subtle, more feminine. It’s a beautifully drafted tale of love, spiked with innermost feelings and emotions. The author doesn’t simply describe her experiences – she reveals how the sojourn changed her and what it brought into her life. Reviving fond memories and reminiscing about the past, she recounts finding her true soulmate and meeting people who became not just her friends, but her little family. And she does it in a candid, straightforward way that is very appealing. With this book Kathy Giuffre invites you to her world. Let me assure you that you won’t regret accepting the invitation.

The story itself is highly entertaining. Wonderful depictions capture imagination, evoking images of a tropical paradise – a blissful land of tranquil delights, where good vibrations fill the air, sorrows sink beneath the waves, and everyone beams with sheer happiness. The serene ambience of the book definitely reflects the unique atmosphere of the South Seas. From the very first page you are ‘surrounded’ by a magical aura that doesn’t disappear with the last word; it lingers on for a very long time.

‘An Afternoon in Summer’ is less a travelogue and more a memoir, which means that the Pacific country is not its prime focus. Nonetheless, the author made sure to include a few interesting facts about Rarotonga, its inhabitants, and their fascinating culture, so that readers could taste Polynesia and experience the real life in the Cooks.

This extremely honest account of a woman’s voyage of self-discovery was written to give others hope and encourage them to change their own lives. It’s inspirational, thought-provoking, thoroughly riveting – simply brilliant. If you want to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Blue Continent, this is the right choice for you. It’s a book definitely worth reading.