Tag Archives: French Polynesia

BEST BOOKS ABOUT WOMEN FOR WOMEN

The Materena Mahi Series by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

This trilogy is about being a woman – a partner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a cousin, a professional, a star. It’s about caring for those you love but not forgetting about yourself. It’s about having a dream and chasing it. It’s about not being scared. It’s about taking the risk and getting what you really want from life.

‘Afakasi Woman’ by Lani Wendt Young

What does it mean to be an afakasi woman? To belong neither here nor there? To be too brown to be white and too white to be brown? It’s not always easy. There are hardships; there are trials, and tribulations. But there are also hopes, triumphs, and joys. Because women – regardless of their colour, race, culture – know how to be strong even in the worst of times.

‘Secret Shopper’ by Tanya Taimanglo

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When Phoenix’s husband tells her he’s leaving, her entire world falls apart. But she knows that she needs to take hold of herself and this new situation she’s found herself in if she wants her little world to get back to normal again. She quickly learns that life is full of surprises and that happiness can wait just around the corner. You just have to believe and never ever give up.

The Scarlet Series by Lani Wendt Young

You can’t choose your family. But you can choose what impact your family will have on you. Even though Scarlet’s past doesn’t let her forget about itself, she finds motivation to let go of it and – for the first time in her life – have a little bit of (steamy) fun. Well, that’s what girls wanna do when they meet a deliciously divine man.

‘Freelove’ by Sia Figiel

Growing up is hard. Growing up in Samoa is even harder. Inosia happens to know an awful lot about it. Restricted by her culture, she’s wondering whether love can ever be free; whether a woman has the right to desire, pleasure, and sexual fulfillment. If so, at what cost?

‘ISLAND OF SHATTERED DREAMS’ BY CHANTAL T. SPITZ

‘Island of Shattered Dreams’, penned by Chantal T. Spitz, is a family saga set in the lush islands of French Polynesia. It is the first ever novel written by an indigenous Tahitian writer.

ISLAND OF SHATTERED DREAMS

Summary

Maevarua and Teuira lead a peaceful life on a serene island in French Polynesia until their son – Tematua – is recruited to fight for the Motherland during World War II. Much to the dismay of his parents, he agrees to leave his beloved country to go where he is needed.

Upon returning from Europe, Tematua doesn’t want to talk about his war experience. He slowly reacquaints himself with the islands when he meets beautiful Emere. Their love strikes like lightning.

As the years pass by, Tematua and Emere – now having three wonderful children – still delight in being together. But their comfortable and quiet existence is suddenly, and once again, disturbed by the arrival of white people from the Motherland.

Review

A family saga, love story, and a political statement of sorts woven into one continuous narrative is a highly risky combination. Unless your name is Chantal T. Spitz, and you are a prominent Tahitian writer bold enough to mix poetry with the gloomy and rather unpleasant subject of colonialism. Then such amalgamation turns out to be a truly winning combination.

I am not quite sure why, but whenever a novel is set in French Polynesia, it exudes such a delightful and unique atmosphere that you simply get lost in the world the author has created. Ms Spitz, too, managed to paint a vivid picture of idyllic, romantic islands, where Mā’ohi people enjoy their sheltered lives largely unaware of what’s beyond their shores. The little country seems to be a blissful microcosm of peace and tranquility, filled with warm-hearted and good-natured inhabitants. And do not think that this rosy portrayal of the archipelago is coincidental; or done to charm readers with the ambience of the place. Although the latter indeed works its magic, the very one-sided depiction serves a completely different purpose.

When a writer decides to broach a highly sensitive topic with the aim of eliciting a certain response, provoking a reaction, it needs to give the audience proper stimuli; something that will make them think and understand the message hidden between the lines. To do it, Chantal T. Spitz chose to juxtapose the perfect and unspoilt islands of French Polynesia with the imperialist, not-caring-for-anything-or-anybody Motherland. And she chose well. Her descriptions perfectly accentuate the polarity between the colonizers and the colonized. Even those who are not familiar with the subject matter will understand how great an impact France had on the small Pacific nation. From recruiting Polynesians to fight against the enemy during the Second World War to freely conducting nuclear tests on the pristine atolls to imposing Western values on the local communities, the European country significantly affected their overseas territory. For indigenous people, who consider their land almost sacred and take great pride in their ancient heritage, this piece of history still evokes a sense of injustice. That is why the novel oozes with concealed anger. But, quite honestly, you can’t really blame the author for that, can you?

Now, despite clearly highlighting the contrast between the righteous and the villains, Ms Spitz managed to avoid making generalizations. By developing complex and believable characters, such as mixed-race and thus torn between two cultures Emere (Emily) or Laura Lebrun, a sympathetic towards the natives French lady, she took the bias out of the story and made it even more fascinating and meaningful.

‘Island of Shattered Dreams’ is a historical romance, and as befits a book of this genre, even one set against a strongly political backdrop, the language and style simply delight. You cannot get enough of the lyrical tone and the pieces of poetry thrown here and there along with Tahitian words are the most splendid embellishment. The author’s elegant manner is full of ‘Polynesian vibe’; vibe that’s unparalleled and virtually impossible to imitate.

This slim novel is a must-read. It’s one of the most important titles in Pacific Literature; engaging, thought-provoking, and unbelievably beautifully written. For those who want to experience the allure of the South Seas…without the paradise layer.

ON THE ELEVENTH DAY OF … MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME:

‘Island of Shattered Dreams’ by Chantal T. Spitz

‘Island of Shattered Dreams’, penned by an indigenous Tahitian writer, created a little scandal in French Polynesia. Now, isn’t it the best recommendation?

This is the life (and love) story of Tematua and Emere who, together with their children, enjoy a relatively untroubled existence on a beautiful island in the Blue Continent. Relatively, because even in paradise not everything is picture perfect.

Chantal T. Spitz wrote a very eye-opening book that deals with controversial and sensitive issues regarding colonialism and France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific among other things. Although it’s definitely not a light-hearted piece, it reads very well (provided that you get used to the author’s highly poetic language and tone).

ON THE SEVENTH DAY OF … MY TRUE LOVE SENT TO ME:

Materena Mahi Trilogy by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Célestine Hitiura Vaite’s series is a perfect way to transport yourself to Tahiti – one of the most extraordinary places on the planet Earth.

Materena Mahi lives together with her man (not yet husband), Pito, and their three children. It may seem that she leads an ordinary life, but the truth is, in the town of Faa’a not a day, an hour, a minute goes by without some flurry of excitement.

A trilogy written for women. This is how you could sum this series up. It’s about love, hope, and courage to chase your dreams. It’s about commitment and discovering what’s truly important in life. It’s a beautiful and immensely engaging piece of literature that will make you both laugh and cry!

‘TIARE IN BLOOM’ BY CÉLESTINE HITIURA VAITE

‘Tiare in Bloom’ is the final instalment in Célestine Hitiura Vaite’s trilogy featuring Materena Mahi, her husband Pito, and their day-to-day experiences in beautiful Tahiti.

TIARE IN BLOOM

Summary

After becoming a radio talk-show host, Materena is a big star in the little town of Faa’a. She is not a professional cleaner anymore, but a confident, successful woman – a proud wife, a mother of three grown-up children, a local celebrity – who truly enjoys her new life. Instead of sitting at home, she takes driving lessons and goes out with her girlfriends to have some fun. Her behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed by Pito. Oh how he wants his wife to be her old self again! But it seems that the good old times have irretrievably passed.

Everything changes when an infant baby girl is left on the couple’s doorstep. As the little cutie pie turns out to be their son’s daughter, Materena and Pito feel it’s their duty to take care of her. And so they do. Quite surprisingly, the star grandfather – Pito – finally gains admiration not only from his wife, but also her relatives.

Review

Can the third book in a series be better than the first two? Apparently it can. This volume may be Vaite’s best work yet. It’s so deep, so multidimensional, so insightful that you can’t help but marvel at both the story itself and the author’s craft.

Those who read the previous titles in the trilogy might be surprised to find out that this last instalment is not about Materena. Although she still remains a prominent character, it’s her significant other Pito who steals the limelight. His trials and tribulations, his efforts to become a man worthy of his wife are the focal points of this incredibly interesting narrative. Vaite managed to paint a very believable portrait of a husband, father, son, and finally a doting grandfather. As she describes Pito’s transformation from a self-absorbed, I-know-everything macho to a loving and wise man, she plants a seed of change in people’s mentality. It’s a fact that she tries to influence and inspire primarily her fellow countrymen, who are members of a highly traditional society with strictly defined gender roles. But the truth is, this thought-provoking tale has the power to affect every single human being, regardless of race, sex, age, or religion. Gentlemen, if you’ve been wondering what it really means to be an ‘alpha male’, you should grab this novel and ponder on the author’s words. Ladies, you think you’re obliged to do certain things just because you are women? Think again, and you may soon experience your very own eureka moment.

Vaite’s shocking (at least to some readers) look at love, marriage, and family makes this book an outstanding study of custom in transition. Somewhere between the lines of this light-hearted, amusing story lie the well-known truths and waiting to be discovered secrets. Many (if not all) of them are universally applicable, capable of fitting into any time and place. We are still in French Polynesia; but this time French Polynesia represents the whole world.

It’s fair to say that Célestine Hitiura Vaite outdid herself with this volume. If her previous novels are good – and they are – this one is excellent. Created in her distinctive style, it’s a magnificent closure to the Tahitian trilogy – entertaining, funny, inspirational, extremely touching. I can promise you that your emotions will be running high every time you flip the page of ‘Tiare in Bloom’. A book can’t possibly get any better than this.

So do not wait to lay your hands on these gems. Each of the three titles is charming, well written, and thoroughly engaging. Together, they form a wonderful series that offers a fascinating insight into Tahitian culture. Let Materena, Pito, and the rest of the clan give you a guided tour of the place they are privileged to call home. But be careful, you may not want to come back.

‘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.