Tag Archives: Samoa

‘GRAVITY’ BY TRACEY POUEU-GUERRERO

‘Gravity’ is the first instalment in Tracey Poueu-Guerrero’s Michaels Family Series. This is a coming of age love story that centres around Eva, a young sporty girl from California, and her journey of growing up and self-discovery.

GRAVITY

Summary

Being the youngest child and an only girl in the family is not easy. Always surrounded by her protective brothers, Eva doesn’t even think about boys. A tomboy with no girlfriends, she keeps busy doing what she does best – playing sports.

Eva’s life changes when she meets him – the boy of her dreams. Colton Banks quickly becomes part of the Michaels family and Eva’s best friend; the only friend she has ever had.

As the years go by, both Eva and Colton discover that what they feel for each other is more than just friendship. And although they fight hard to suppress their attraction, the pull becomes impossible to resist.

Review

‘Gravity’ is a young adult read filled with passion, romance, teenage angst, and – here’s the part that may be surprising to you – wisdom. Yes, Tracey Poueu-Guerrero managed to create a relatable story for young people that’s not only enjoyable, but also inspiring and brilliantly thought-provoking.

Although the novel may seem like your typical boy-meets-girl tale, it is not conventionally or trivially romantic. Of course, you may predict right from the beginning that the two main characters will eventually end up together (no surprises here), but what happens along the way is completely unforeseeable.

The love story, which you would think is the central element of the book, at times constitutes just a background for other plots. There is a lot about Eva’s journey from a self-conscious teenager to a self-confident young woman, a good deal about her relationship with her overprotective brothers, a little about her search for her cultural identity. Every chapter adds another layer to the narrative, making it head in directions that are constantly and wonderfully unexpected.

Especially intriguing is the way the author portrayed the theme of Eva’s ethnicity. Part Polynesian, part white Californian girl, Eva struggles to find her identity. Her looks (tan skin, curly hair, generous bum) may give away her island origin, but she knows nothing about her heritage. Thanks to her friend, she gets introduced to the Samoan culture. She meets people who look like her; she discovers the language; she learns about the country her grandfather came from. And she finally starts feeling ‘at home with herself’.

Eva’s journey of self-discovery gives readers wonderful insights into the Samoan world. We get to know it through Eva’s and Colton’s eyes – and I must say that’s a very interesting perspective.

Speaking of Eva and Colton… Everybody knows that no story can exist without characters. If they are well-crafted, they add an extra spark to a tale. Tracey Poueu-Guerrero developed unbelievably believable, round, and dynamic protagonists whom young people can easily identify with. But the real strength of this novel lies in the minor characters – mainly Eva’s brothers and friends. They not only complement the leading pair but are also stars on their own.

‘Gravity’ is a great read. It is well constructed, compelling, and filled to the brim with all the drama teenagers and young adults often have to deal with. If you have a daughter, son, younger sibling – this book will make a perfect Christmas gift for them. Just bear in mind that it contains some explicit language and sexual situations, so it may not be suitable for ages under 15.

‘PACIFIC TSUNAMI GALU AFI’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is an account of the 2009 Pacific Tsunami that hit the countries of Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga on September, 29th. It was penned by a Samoan writer, Lani Wendt Young.

GALU AFI

Summary

The morning of September 29th is like any other day in Samoa. Some people are getting ready for work, others are still asleep. They don’t know yet that their lives are soon going to change forever.

At 6.48 a.m. the earth begins to tremble; violently. Things are falling off the shelves; coconuts are falling off the trees; rocks are falling off the cliffs. A short while later, the sirens can be heard blaring out.

Most people, busy with their morning routines, don’t even notice the ocean receding. But the birds know. They know something is coming, so they take off. They take off before the first black wave starts rushing to the shore.

Review

Imagine you’re watching one of those Hollywood-made disaster drama films. You know, the films with an all-star cast, great special effects, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat biting your nails in fear, excitement, or both. The films you’re watching thanking God it’s only a film. Well, ‘Galu Afi’ is such a film; only on paper.

You may think that this is just a book that recounts the tragic events of September 29th, 2009, but I can already tell you that it is not. This book is so much more. It shows us what’s really important in life. It proves that people can act like brothers, not enemies; that we can count on one another when the bad times come. It is, contrary to appearances, an unbelievably uplifting read; one that will stay in your head long after the book is closed.

Lani Wendt Young was given a tough job of putting together dozens of heartbreaking stories to document the disaster for Samoa and its people. It would be all too easy to create a volume full of sorrowful narratives, but she managed to avoid excessive sentimentality. Yes, the presented accounts are moving, poignant, at times even disturbing – and you might shed a tear or two. But you will also smile, because they are often laced with subtle, appropriate humour only Lani Wendt Young can deliver.

The emotions ‘Galu Afi’ evokes give you a true roller-coaster ride, largely due to the fact that you don’t stay in one story for a very long time. It seems as if the author had wanted all the voices to be heard. You meet one family, then you meet another, and another. There are so many characters, yet somehow you remember them all. You feel for them, admire them, wonder at their strength and resilience. And when you see their faces in the photographs, their tales become even more real. Suddenly you realize that this is not some Hollywood story, and that not everyone has a happy ending.

The book is written in a simple yet elegant style. Lani Wendt Young doesn’t show off her writing skills – she remains in the shadow, but she still gets to shine. The people’s voices are neatly stitched together with her own words, creating an absorbing read full of heart and soul.

Before I started reading ‘Galu Afi’, I had already known that Lani Wendt Young is an extraordinarily talented writer. But now I will say that she is a true literary artisan. This book isn’t good; it’s not even great. It can be described in one word only – a masterpiece. ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is a pure masterpiece.

‘AFAKASI WOMAN’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a collection of twenty-four short stories penned by Lani Wendt Young. They are set in Samoa and centre around various women of mixed ethnicity.

AFAKASI WOMAN

Summary

In Samoa, every afakasi woman knows that life isn’t always a bed of roses. When you are too brown to be white and too white to be brown, there are challenges you have to face, hardships you have to endure, and tragedies you have to get through.

But women know how to be strong. They are able to withstand any storm that life throws at them. They can stand up, fight back, and show everyone around that the colour of your skin doesn’t determine who you really are.

Review

This compilation was written by Lani Wendt Young – one of the most gifted contemporary writers from the South Pacific – so you can be certain it is at least good, if not great. And I can already tell you, that if you decide to read it, you won’t be disappointed.

The book is titled ‘Afakasi Woman’. ‘Afakasi’ means ‘half caste’ and is used to describe a person of mixed ethnicity. You might think, therefore, that the themes explored in the volume will appeal only to half-palagi (white), half-Samoan ladies. That only they will be able to relate to the stories. Well, that is the furthest from the truth. Of course, the collection is heavily infused with Samoan culture, but it can be enjoyed by females all over the world. Because the issues tackled in the book are so universal that every single woman will understand the message the author wanted to convey.

If you are familiar with Lani Wendt Young’s works, you know that she is never 100 percent serious or 100 percent light-hearted. ‘Afakasi Woman’ follows this beaten path, so in a matter of minutes you get to experience a vast array of emotions. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride that will take you from laughing out loud at one lady’s curse and admiring  Sina’s strength to overcome her biggest fear, to almost weeping for a family torn apart and feeling sorry for Luana over the loss of her child. Not two stories are alike. Some are heavily-themed with violence, abuse, death; others are loaded with a witty sense of humour. But there is something they all have in common – they were created with a purpose. Lani Wendt Young never writes about trifles. She brings up important, often sensitive topics other people prefer not to notice. Even the light-hearted narratives are thought-provoking – they may be coated in humour, but the message is there.

The stories are excellently crafted. The writing feels fresh, original, and very satisfying. Simple but descriptive language brings the scenes alive, allowing you to fully experience the written word. Vividness is definitely one of Lani Wendt Young’s biggest strengths. She knows how to create pictures that will not only appear in the reader’s imagination, but most importantly stay there long after the last page is turned.

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a beautiful portrait of female nature, movingly painted and laced with Samoan vibe. It’s hard not to think that it came into being to honour, support, and encourage women; to give them hope and show how strong and resilient they can be. It is a truly worthy read that I could not recommend more.

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?

‘BE A BLESSING’ BY GLORIA SUA

‘Be a Blessing’ is Gloria Sua’s, a Samoan writer and the founder of Be a Blessing Ministries, debut book. It recounts the author’s journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and spiritual awakening.

BE A BLESSING

Summary

Life hasn’t always been easy for Gloria. Having endured traumatic experiences in the past, she is bound by negativity, grief, regret, pain.

Everything changes one seemingly ordinary day, when – at the age of forty-four – she is rushed to hospital in a very bad condition. Not knowing what is wrong with her and being scared to death, she suddenly hears a voice telling her she’s going to be okay.

Review

Although this book doesn’t even mention the Pacific Islands, it was written by a Samoan, and that means it is worthy of attention. Especially that ‘self-help/motivational’ is not a genre Pacific authors often venture into.

Let me start by saying that this book is about God. About finding God; about living in God; about trusting God. If you are not particularly interested in this type of literature, or if you are not a religious person, this is not a title for you. But if you feel lost; if your life seems meaningless or you’d like to change something in it (whatever that something is); if you’d simply like to do better, to do more, to give more but don’t know where to start, Gloria Sua’s words may be of great help.

The strength of this volume lies in the fact that it’s neither a typical motivational book nor a classic memoir. It’s a delightful mix of both. A motivational memoir (I guess that’s what I would call it) with a captivating story and plenty of wisdom dropped within. The author leads readers to Jesus by showing them how the Lord’s divine grace affected her own life. She shares her trials and tribulations in a very honest manner, so you quickly start feeling as if you were listening to a good friend. And that is exactly why you believe what she’s saying. Gloria Sua is not a preacher giving you a religious talk, but rather a pal offering you helpful advice. In a surprisingly comprehensible way, she explains certain Bible verses, providing you with a much better understanding of the Gospel. By doing so she lets you look at your life in a whole new – broader and wider – perspective. We all need that from time to time, don’t you agree? We need that wake-up call to remind us what truly matters. Because what we often think is important, in reality has no value at all.

Now, while the content is captivating, the author’s style certainly doesn’t blow away. That’s not to say the book is poorly written; it is not. It is a decent work, quite cleverly constructed and mostly very well put together. It just fails to impress. Which, and I have to stress that, does not diminish the book’s worth.

So would I recommend this ‘motivational memoir’? I would. It is a great read. Inspiring, enlightening, thought-provoking. After finishing it, you’ll surely ask yourself: ‘What has God given me as an assignment in life?’ And you know what? I believe (and hope) that Gloria Sua will help you find the right answer. So you too could be a blessing.

A CHAT WITH… DAVID STRINGER

David Stringer is a) a very talented writer and b) an all-around nice guy. His novel, ‘Islands of the Heart’, was published in 2012. Don’t be surprised if one day you see a movie based on the story, as he is now working hard to finish a screenplay adaptation of the book. Wanna know more about David? Read on!

DAVID STRINGER

Pasifika Tales: If you were to describe your book, make a short summary for the readers, what would you say?

David Stringer: Essentially Islands is a story of people, a family, with secrets — some are hiding what they have done, others what has happened to them. So it’s how they deal with these, how it affects their lives and eventually, how the victims forgive those who hurt them. Perhaps more importantly it’s about how people can come to forgive themselves. And it happens to be set in Samoa and New Zealand with Pacific Island and Maori characters, so I guess it also kind of explores what it might be like to be PI / Maori in modern New Zealand.  Along the way it also tells the story of a violent man who comes to understand that his violence is the cause of all his problems rather than the solution.

PT: How did the book come into being? Who or what was your inspiration?

DS: Way back in 2004 my wife and I went through a sad time when our daughter and grandson left to live permanently in Australia. They had lived with us for nearly two years and he had become almost like another son to us, so close. I have always been a writer by nature so I decided to write my way through the pain. As a story idea, I had once been friends in my youth with a half-Samoan guy whom I admired because he was completely fearless. I had once seen him see off a motorbike gang singlehandedly. It kind of intrigued me — what would it be like to be so strong (and violent) that you basically had to fear no-one? Every male’s dream perhaps, but does it come with a cost?  Is there a price to pay at the end?  And so WOLF was born and I knocked out a few chapters (30,000 words) and sent them to a reviewer in the UK, Robin Lloyd-Jones (a Tutor in Creative Writing at Glasgow Uni and also Booker Prize nominee). Robin liked Islands and became both a mentor and editor. It was he who eventually suggested that the real theme of Islands was actually “Forgiveness”  rather than simply the effect of violence on people’s lives. A light bulb went on in my head and I re-wrote the book to reflect this theme, which I saw was indeed closer to what I was trying to say.

My wife and I moved to Australia ourselves in 2008 and I was overjoyed to be selected in a group of 16 writers by the Gold Coast Council to be mentored into completing our novels. Duly on the last day of 2009 I typed “The End”. My group all did critiques which were like gold, and I consequently re-wrote substantial parts of the 120,000 word manuscript. After some years of disappointment trying to get a publisher (even an agent was impossible — there are about 4 listed on the internet in NZ and one of these was dead!!), I published Islands myself in 2012.

PT: The story doesn’t revolve around one character only. There are quite a few of them. Care to share which were most difficult/fun to write?

DS: Well, Wolf was based on that fearless warrior of my youth, Karl, but as he was mixed-race, as is Wolf, I also was inspired in part by my own son who is half Samoan. He too is a tough cookie who served in the NZ Army in Timor. He can be seen in the end of the promotional video for Islands on my website: www.islandsoftheheart.wordpress.com. He provides the deeper more introspective side to Wolf. I would say that Wolf is the most complex character who completes the greatest character arc, so the novel is probably most about him.

PEPE, Wolf’s mother, just rose up fully formed in my mind. I guess she is just everything I intuitively feel a mature woman should be — not perfect,  yet shining with this deep innate wisdom and love, and able to endure all the pain and suffering of this world in her being. She is the character I feel I “know” the best, even though she is female.

PASIFIKA would be my favourite character. He too is not based on anyone I know but there is more than a hint of NZ’s greatest ever comedian, Billy T James,  in his irreverent yet childlike nature.  Fika is a naïf, a Samoan Peter Pan, who remains in awe of the world as he sees it. He was also the favourite character of all my writing group friends. He was most fun to write, usually cracking me up with his remarks.

STEVEN, Wolf’s father, was difficult to write. A deeply conflicted man desperate to come to terms with both his ageing and his sins. Highly intelligent yet torn with the feeling he is a loser, and worse, that he deserves to be living in this deep dark hell. He is crucial to the story but I found him painful to create.

TANIA, Wolf’s partner, is Pepe in her younger days. She already has Pepe’s depth of feeling and wisdom, but she’s a lot more feisty — a Maori warrior-woman who backs down to no-one and is more than a match for Wolf.

LIN, Wolf’s sister / cousin, is however the character I am in love with. She is a woman as ethereally beautiful and mysteriously female as Wolf is brutally manly; and she has paid a terrible price for being so desirable to men. Although we don’t see a lot of her, she is pivotal to almost every major part of the story structure, and there was no way I wasn’t going to end the whole novel with her. I fantasize about adapting Islands to the screen, and the last, haunting scene is Lin’s.

PT: Many characters means many storylines. Was it difficult to weave them all into one coherent narrative?

DS: Well thank you for saying the narrative was coherent!!  I do fear others may be less kind as it IS a seriously complex set of storylines. I felt I needed them all to fully develop the reader’s relationship to each character. I felt that without this, the reader wouldn’t be able to buy into the whole theme of forgiveness as it is developed in the novel. However it means four POV (point-of-view) characters which is definitely stretching things a bit. However I felt I knew and loved my characters enough to be comfortable in their skins whenever I had to change POV’s.  I guess the readers will be the final judges on that.  To be truthful I didn’t really find the novel that difficult to write — the scenes just formed in my mind like watching a movie, complete with action and dialogue, and my job was simply to put it all down on paper using the right words. I did however have to expend time and energy co-ordinating dates, times and places!! The novel is structured so that we get to know the characters most deeply in Part One, then as it goes into Part Two (the descent into the Night-World, or World of Trials, to follow standard mythology), it all picks up pace and tension and so is more plot-driven.

PT: Although the novel is a family saga of sorts, you touched on a lot of different topics: from politics to multiculturalism to everyday problems people face. Why did you decide to create such a complex plot?

DS: Well as I said before, it began as a quite simple idea but quickly became complex as I found the characters had darker sides and histories. To a large extent, as the creator, you do know what your beginning and ending are, but you have to navigate this maze of pathways which connects the two. At the end of the day, I found I simply couldn’t tell Wolf’s story without also telling Tania’s, Steven’s and Pepe’s at the very least. And then there are Lin and Fika who are not POV characters but are so pivotal to the plot and themes they have to be drawn with some depth. As for the politics etc., well I always wanted to write a NEW ZEALAND novel. When I was about 16 my English teacher gave me a copy of “Man Alone” probably the most iconic NZ novel. I adored it. I revered it. I always wanted to write a NZ novel that could stand up there alongside of it. Hence it has material germane only to NZ and NZ readers in some parts. This can be a weakness too sadly, as I found that the literary world doesn’t really have too much interest in NZ. The huge USA market for instance is self-obsessed to an almost “Trumpian” degree and even in Australia, you are starting with a handicap if you are touting a book set in Wanaka rather than the baked outback.

PT: ‘Islands of the Heart’ – what does this title mean?

DS: It’s simply a double entendre: New Zealand and Samoa are such beautiful islands that they become a part of your heart once you have experienced them; and the people we love are also living in our hearts, yet they can become isolated and lonely, like islands, if we don’t cherish them enough.

PT: This book is your first novel. Do you have any plans to write more?

DS: Actually this is not my first novel — I wrote one in 1978 about which the least said the better. As for another? I truly cannot say. Writing Islands was probably the hardest and yet most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life, and it’s tempting to say, “Hey, why not do it all again?” But to be truthful, the chances of getting published are very, very slim and it hurts deeply, very deeply, to labour so over your creation only to see it condemned to some kind of literary black hole where nothing, not even light escapes. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel pain over how much I love Islands and the way it has simply sunk into oblivion, and I really don’t have any desire right now to repeat that. I’ll give you an example. I entered Islands into the NZ Post Book Awards in 2013 I think it was. TV 3 ‘s John Campbell was the chief judge. I duly packaged up all six books requested and sent them plus my $150 entry fee. I never heard one word back. Not even an e-mail saying Hey thanks, we got your book but it sucks. Nothing. That Black Hole again!! I sent John a letter letting him know what I thought of the way they encouraged NZ writers…but he ignored that too.  To this day I do not know where those six books are!!  Into the Black Hole I reckon. It’s around then I decided, No this is just too hard — nobody really gives a damn, no-one is interested.

I have written short stories published in anthologies and an essay I wrote got in the top 20 out of 200+ in Australia’s premier international Essay competition, The Calibre Prize, which I’m quite proud of. They can be read on my website mentioned above. There is also a Facebook page for Islands with some more reviews and recommendations etc.   As I said, I fantasize about Islands being made into a movie — I am sure that in the hands of the right director a really powerful NZ movie could be made. I began work on this last year and the first 10 pages of script can be seen on the above website. I’d like to complete it one day but I think I need some encouragement and even that’s not readily forthcoming. Last year the NZ Screenwriters’ Guild ran a competition for new screenwriters called “Seed Grants” where you qualified if you had written a major work of any kind, including a novel — so I qualified, and I sent my script ideas in but didn’t get selected. Fair enough, I can hack that, but now this year they have changed the entry requirements so that only people who have a major screenwriting or related media project (TV etc), to their name may enter — so that excludes me.

PT: Which Pacific writers do you admire?

DS: A rather curly question for me, this. You see I have never identified as a Pacific writer until the Tusitala competition and finding your wonderful website. I simply considered myself a NZ writer. I must admit it’s a rather romantic idea though isn’t it, to identify with the magnificent Pacific, which is such a strong motif throughout my novel too, by the way.

I have read Albert Wendt’s “Sons for the Return Home” (and loved the movie), and also “The Mango’s Kiss”.  Do you know that the two main characters in this latter book are Peleiupu and Tavita — the names of my wife and me!!! And the characters eloped, just as we did hahahaha, and it’s set in Savaii — the same as my own novel. I’d love to be able to tell Albert about that.  I have become more aware of Pacific writers thanks to the above influences I mentioned and I particularly enjoyed the short stories in “Our Heritage — The Ocean”.  Two stood out for me — Moana Leilua’s “In Masina’s Shoes”, which gave me a good laugh, and the quiet horror of Kelera Tuvou’s “Box of Broken Tunes” really moved me.

If the opportunity arises again to create something “Pacific”, I will grab it with both hands, because thanks to you and The Samoan Observer, I really do feel like a Pacific writer now. And many thanks for that.

The interview is presented without edits.

‘ISLANDS OF THE HEART’ BY DAVID STRINGER

‘Islands of the Heart’ is a novel penned by David Stringer. It tells the story of a family whose members desperately try to come to terms with their past.

ISLANDS OF THE HEART

Summary

For Wolf, an ex-soldier, life has always been simple – when faced with a trouble, it’s best to settle it with your fists. But when his murky past catches up with him, fists no longer seem useful. Wolf knows he needs to leave to sort out his personal issues.

Wolf’s girlfriend, Tania, disappointed with her man’s departure, struggles with problems of her own. Wanting to uncover Wolf’s secrets as well as understand her own life, she decides to return to her childhood home.

A difficult past also haunts Steven, Wolf’s father, who can’t forgive himself sins he committed and Pepe, the soldier’s mother, who escaped to her native Samoa to find solace and peace.

Review

This novel is not an easy read. If you think you can take it and spend a relaxing afternoon immersing yourself in a pleasant world of exotic New Zealand and Samoa, I can tell you right away that this is not the case here. For this book is disturbing; profoundly disturbing. So unless you are ready for a bit of shock, foul language, and general ‘rawness’, leave it.

Having mentioned that, I should also mention that this is probably one of the best stories I have ever read. It is unbelievably complex, with twists and turns you couldn’t predict even if you were a master Jedi. The narrative doesn’t go from A to B in a straight (and usually boring) line. There are bends and curves, there is the unexpectedness of what’s going to happen next. Every few pages you get hit with yet another surprise. And, let me assure you, these surprises don’t stop until you reach the very end of the very last chapter.

The story is supported by a group of well-crafted characters. They are a mixed bag of personalities, whom you’ll either adore and admire or simply hate and despise. I would even risk a statement here that in them lies the key strength of this novel. Why? Because they are plausible; neither good nor bad. They have virtues and flaws. They have dreams and expectations as well as closely-guarded secrets they’re ashamed and scared to share with others. To put it simply, they are exactly like us.

Now, great characters alone are not enough to drive the plot. They need to interact with one another. David Stringer managed to paint a very real picture of the relationships people build. How they connect. How they depend on each other. How they place confidence in another person and how easily that trust can be lost. The characters in this book seem to be destined to affect each other’s lives. You may think that one wouldn’t exist without the other. And, you know what, that might be true.

Although the book’s main focus is put on people, the author didn’t forget to touch on cultural and political issues, which provide a sort of background for the characters’ personal tales. Wolf and Tania’s relationship is a top-notch portrayal of the ambiguous relations that native Maoris and Pacific Islanders have. David Stringer explores and accentuates the differences between the two ethnic groups, clearly showing that not all Pasifika people feel that they belong to the same family. The myth of loyalty among the Islanders has just got debunked.

‘Islands of the Heart’ is an excellent novel. Closely observed and artfully written, it reaches deeply into the core of the human nature. It won’t put you in a good mood, that’s for sure, but it will make you think. And, quite possibly, appreciate the power of love and forgiveness.

WRITTEN BY…LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’

This is a non-fiction book that commemorates the devastating tsunami that hit Samoa in September 2009.

Although a harrowing read, it is deeply moving, very informative, and extremely interesting. The survivor’s memories and the interviews with those who came to rescue them have been amazingly woven together, giving readers a thorough account of that horrible day.

For who: For non-fiction fans. For people interested in natural disasters. For those who appreciate literary craft.

‘Afakasi Woman’

This collection of twenty-four short stories gives readers fascinating insights into the lives of women in Samoa.

It is both light-hearted and serious, funny and sad, cheerful and thought-provoking. It’s a female voice from the Pacific region – strong female voice that touches on some of the most difficult issues. Definitely not to be missed.

For who: For all the people who think that women are important. And for those who prefer short forms.

The Telesa Series

The trilogy, which has its roots in Samoan mythology, revolves around a young American girl who initially comes to Samoa to meet her family, but ends up discovering her true self.

These are fantastic books! Excellently written and engaging, they transport readers into the world of ancient myths and legends, letting them discover the unknown side of the Pacific.

For who: For teenagers who love fantasy novels. For teenagers who hate fantasy novels (after reading these, they’ll love them). For adults who think they are too old and mature to read anything that’s a mix of imaginary world and romance.

‘I am Daniel Tahi’

This short novella is a companion book to the Telesa series. It tells the same story but from the male point of view.

Lani Wendt Young created a narrative that’s not only compelling, but also fun to read. Having been written in a very ‘manly’ manner, it is pretty enlightening (for us – girls) and often quite hilarious. A truly fantastic read!

For who: For girls (and women) who are dreaming of or looking for their Mr Perfect. Warning: you may suddenly heighten your expectations! Also, for all the females who think that Mr Perfect doesn’t exist – he does, at least in Lani Wendt Young’s books.

The Scarlet Series

The author’s newest series focuses on Scarlet – a young woman who, while coming back to Samoa to attend her sister’s wedding, learns that homecomings don’t always mean love, hugs, and happiness; especially when secrets from the past are involved.

Despite the seemingly light-hearted and humorous nature of the books, they broach some very sensitive topics, making the whole story multidimensional and unique. Fantastic, believable characters (with Scarlet taking the lead here) only add to the greatness that these novels are.

For who: For everyone who has already celebrated his/her 18th birthday. Probably a bit more suitable for women than men.

‘FREELOVE’ BY SIA FIGIEL

‘Freelove’ is Sia Figiel’s latest novel. It is set in Samoa in the 1980s and revolves around the first love experiences of a seventeen-year-old girl.

FREELOVE

Summary

Inosia Alofafua Afatasi, an inquisitive student from the Village of the Sacred Owl, is sent by her mother to the capital to buy three giant white threads. As she’s waiting at the bus stop, her young teacher of Science and Math, Mr Ioane Viliamu, stops to offer her a ride in his car. Sia just knows that the minute she steps a foot into the truck, her life will change forever.

Review

Sia Figiel is one of the best and most renowned Pacific writers, so whenever she publishes a book, you expect it to be at least very good. It was a long wait for ‘Freelove’ but, let me assure you, oh-so worthy, because the novel certainly does not disappoint.

It’s not a secret that Ms Figiel just loves breaking cultural taboos. She had done it in her earlier works and she did it again in ‘Freelove’. When it comes to the Pacific cultures, there are few greater taboos than those concerning human sexuality. Now, a person not familiar with Samoan or Pacific ways of being might think that this title is a coming-of-age story about young girl’s sexual awakening. But the truth is, this is just the outer layer – the most prominent one, yes; the most easily noticeable, yes; the most important, absolutely not.

The main characters’ relationship, although graphically described and thus attracting readers attention, serves a higher purpose. It’s nor there to shock people or make them blush. It’s not a cheap entertainment. It’s not even an attempt to contradict Margaret Mead’s studies. It is a way of showing the constantly changing culture, where tradition fights with modernity even though the two have already become closely intertwined – just like Sia’s and Ioane’s bodies.

The author managed to wonderfully expose Inosia’s journey in discovering her own identity, as both a Samoan and a woman. We observe her trying to remain a dutiful daughter while at the same time following her heart. It’s not easy to fulfil social expectations when you have your dreams and desires. Or maybe it’s not easy to fulfil your dreams when you’re restricted by social expectations.

Ioane, on the other hand, is a guide who leads Inosia through her journey of discovery. Not only does he show her a completely unknown world, he also throws a new light on the ancient traditions of the Samoan people. Ioane is Sia’s lover, soulmate, friend, teacher, and motivator. He encourages her to indulge her passions, but also reminds her to never forget her cultural roots.

What you might not see at first is the fact that the book is an encouragement for a dialogue. Sia Figiel created two truly fascinating protagonists, through whom she tried to convey her wisdom. By giving us Inosia – a somewhat naïve yet enormously clever girl with ambitions, who’s doing all she can to find herself in a collectivist society – and Ioane – a young but experienced man willing to sacrifice his future so that the girl he loves can lead the life she wants and deserves – she makes us ponder on the value on individualism and self-realization in a culture where ‘we’ is still more important than ‘I’.

The story itself is told in an unconventional and very poetic manner, which for some people might be a little overwhelming, if not purely irritating. The powerful prose indeed leaves readers in awe of the author’s talent and skills, but the occasional flowery descriptions might be unappealing. I should also mention that those of you who are not particularly romantic may find the second part of the book – where Sia and Ioane exchange love letters – quite annoying. I mean, how many times can you read somebody’s love confessions, especially if they are a bit exaggerated?

All in all, ‘Freelove’ is a wonderful novel, definitely worthy of your time and attention. It’s a highly perceptive, enlightening piece of literature, which provokes thinking and reflection on love, sex, personal growth, and – most of all – the importance of culture in a person’s life. It is a fairy-tale, but I won’t tell you if it’s with or without a happily ever after ending. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

FORGET GREY. BEST BOOKS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ by Lani Wendt Young

‘I am Daniel Tahi’ is a companion novella to Lani Wendt Young’s well-known Telesa series. As it shows Daniel’s point of view, it is written in a very ‘manly’ manner. It’s casual, funny, and…quite hot. You think Christian Grey is a guy for you? That means you haven’t met Daniel Tahi yet. And believe me, you do want to meet him.

‘Sons For The Return Home’ by Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt’s cross-racial love story follows a young student, the son of Samoan migrants, who falls for a pakeha girl. Amidst the troubles and difficulties, the two lovers discover the world of intimacy and relationships, quickly realizing that it’s not always easy to love someone from a different culture. The plot of this book is filled with desire, lust, sexual tension, and…overwhelming longing for what’s not there but could be.

‘Conquered’ by Paula Quinene

This historical erotic romance revolves around Jesi, a young Chamorro girl who, in the most dramatic circumstances, meets the man of her dreams. The story will make your heart beat a bit faster than usual, and the couple’s intense relationship will make you green with envy…or red in the face (if you know what I mean).

The Scarlet Series by Lani Wendt Young

Sometimes girls just wanna have fun, right? And, trust me, no one does it better than Scarlet, the main character in the series. Especially when a very handsome man appears on the horizon. Although this very enjoyable book may seem light-hearted on the surface, it has a real plot full of secrets. And if you’re looking for some romance, you will definitely find it here!

‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’ by Jan Walker

This title is a little more ‘serious’, more ‘mature’. It recounts a true story of June von Donop, who comes to the Kingdom of Tonga to find a purpose in life but ends up finding her true soulmate (while at the same time having a romance with a young Tongan man). This is the most beautiful love story, told with great passion, that you’ll want to reread as soon as you finish the last sentence.