Tag Archives: Samoa

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.

A CHAT WITH… MAUREEN FEPULEA’I

Maureen Fepulea’i surely is an extremely talented person. Not only is this Samoan-born lady an award winning playwright but also a very gifted writer. Her short story, ‘A Samoan Wife’, was one of the top stories in the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition and thus was included in the compilation ‘Our Heritage, The Ocean’. But Maureen is also someone you should listen to. Her wise words really make people think. So, are you interested in getting to know more? Read on.

maureen-fepuleai

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition?

Maureen Fepulea’i: I decided to enter the Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story Competition because I had a story to share. It also helped that there was prize money involved 🙂

PT: Did you have any idea that your piece would appear in the compilation? What was your initial reaction when you learnt about it?

MF: I found out that ‘The Samoan Wife’ was going to appear in the compilation, after the judging had been completed. I was very excited and at the same time, pretty surprised that my piece was to be included, considering the high calibre of the winners entries.

PT: As you’ve already mentioned, the story we are talking about is entitled ‘The Samoan Wife’. What does it mean to be a Samoan wife?

MF: I can only speak from my personal observations and experiences throughout my lifetime. Being a Samoan wife is to be strong in the face of adversity; to sacrifice self in the name of peace and harmony in the family; to submit to the will of your husband whether good or bad; to lose your precious status as ‘feagaiga’ because you are now married; to obey; to smile for the world to see that all is well in your aiga, regardless of whether it is or not; to clean up the mess made by your husband, your children, your in-laws, your parents; to love, cherish and honour your husband above all till death do you part; to be treated like the Princess that you are; to be honoured and respected for all that you do; to be a fierce, beautiful and intelligent and empowered individual.

PT: I’d say – and your story shows it quite clearly – that Samoan wives are strong enough to carry on with their duties no matter what happens behind closed doors. Would you agree?

MF: From my observations and also personal experience, I strongly agree with that statement. I wrote a play – ‘e ono tama’i pato’ that illustrates this very well. Unfortunately, the cost to the ‘Samoan wife’ is too high; mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

PT: You wrote a story that’s – apart from being very moving – extremely uplifting. Did you want to give women the courage to say: ‘It’s not OK the way it is’?

MF: I actually started writing ‘The Samoan Wife’ based on an experience my Mum had immediately after my Father died. Mum had brought Papa’s body back from Samoa to New Zealand and we were preparing for his funeral. I remember my Mum called out from her room and when we rushed in, her nose was bleeding and she said that she had seen my Father in the mirror. As my writing progressed, it developed into a story of empowerment for women but at the same time, illustrated the powerful conditioning of the Samoan wife’s mind to loyally protecting the image of ‘aiga’ at the expense of her truth and her personal dignity. I agree that I wanted women to know that “it isn’t OK the way it is” as well as for our Samoan women to know that they are not alone in what they are going through. Despite the masks we wear, we can all empathise to some degree, with what goes on behind closed doors.

PT: Domestic violence is a big problem throughout the Pacific. Actually, in ‘Our Heritage the Ocean’ there is another emotionally charged piece – Sina Retzlaff’s ‘Unborn Child’ – that deals with the same subject. Do you think that talking about it openly can bring about some changes?

MF: I think that talking about it openly is always a good thing. My concern is that it usually ends at the talking stage, until the next workshop or fono or “domestic violence awareness event”. I believe that it is like the scripture in the book of James – Faith without works is dead. So is talk without works. I believe that churches need to take a greater responsibility in teaching and educating families about the feagaiga of respecting for, taking care and protecting our wives, husbands and children. I believe that our Matai and Family leaders need to take a stronger lead and set premium examples of how to treat one another. I believe that our children need to have their voices heard in their respective aiga. We are an oratory culture – we are also a culture of action and service. This needs to go hand in hand when it comes to addressing and deleting family violence from our collective mindsets. Don’t get me started…

PT: So now getting back to you… You are an accomplished playwright, but do you plan to write more? Publish a book maybe?

MF: I so plan to write more. I have many stories lined up inside my head bursting to come forth. Whether they come out in poetry form, song form, script form or story/book form remains to be seen. All I can say for now is, “watch this space” auuuuuuuuu lol.

PT: Would you encourage your fellow Pacific Islanders to become tellers of tales? There are so many talented people from the region, aren’t there?

MF: ABSOLUTELY!!! Your life is your story! Your observations and experiences are the content of your manuscript! You don’t have to be formally trained or educated to share your story. Your story may be exactly what somebody else needs to read to be inspired or motivated to take the next step for empowering themselves. Your story may come out as drawings, sculptures, song, poetry, script, written story or performance theatre…however you choose to share your story, please do!

THAT ONE BOOK

My Pacific Literature adventure began when I first read Albert Wendt’s book. I read it and I fell in love – with his creativity, writing style, talent. Then, years later, I discovered other authors from the region: Lani Wendt Young, who is the voice of contemporary Pacific women. Tanya Taimanglo, a very gifted lady whose tales accompany me in my daily life. Epeli Hauʻofa, for works of whom I reach whenever I need a bit of laugh. There is also Sia Figiel (The greatest). And Célestine Hitiura Vaite (Oh how I regret she hasn’t written anything since her charming Materena Mahi Trilogy). And Stephen Tenorio Jr. (Joyce, Hemingway of the Blue Continent?). And Chantal T. Spitz (She proves that poetry can convey a powerful message). And Lehua Parker (I had never thought I’d be interested in the adventures of a teenage boy, but I was!). And… I could go on and on about the writers from the South Seas. All outstandingly talented, most virtually unknown.

But if there is one author and one book that truly touched my heart, it’s Sieni A.M. and her ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’. This is such a superb novel, that it’s impossible to simply describe it, as no amount of words could ever truly show its beauty.

The (love) story of two young people, both physically or emotionally ‘flawed’ (I hate this word!), is technically aimed at young adults. However, it should be read by all – regardless of age, sex, social status, etc. At this moment you are probably wondering why. Let me explain.

Sieni A.M. created a moving narrative and filled it with extraordinary, extremely believable characters. Especially Kiva, the heroine of the book, is someone we should look up to. By modern standards, the girl is not perfect. Her visible limp makes her less worthy. She gets laughed at; she gets called names; she gets bullied. Just because she doesn’t meet the standards of beauty. What is beauty anyway? Well… Beauty is Kiva. A girl so strong, so understanding, so compassionate that you can’t help but be amazed at her fortitude. She proves that nothing can break you unless you let it. That you are not ‘without your strengths’, even if you ‘have flaws and insecurities’. That each and every one of us ‘belongs to something greater than our physical body and the physical world around us’. That if we can ‘walk, crawl, or limp toward our dreams, it is enough’.

How often do we forget about this? How often do we ask for more than we already have? How often do we treat ‘people like Kiva’ with not enough respect? ‘Scar Of The Bamboo Leaf’ is a wonderful reminder of what’s really important in life. It lets us understand that if we are good people, we are all perfect – even if the rest of the world keeps telling us otherwise. The colour of your skin, the structure of your hair, the length of your legs don’t matter. Dream, fulfill your potential, and help others do the same.

I have already read this novel quite a few times and it’s still not enough for me. I know that this book will stay with me till the rest of my life. Because it is beautiful, thought-provoking, inspiring, and moving. Every time I immerse myself in this story, it touches my heart. It gives me hope and encouragement. And it makes me cry (and you must know that I am not an easy crier – quite the contrary).

Such phenomenal piece of literature could have been created only by an enormously talented writer. That’s Sieni A.M. – a truly perfect woman.

‘WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED’ BY SIA FIGIEL

‘Where We Once Belonged’ is Sia Figiel’s debut novel. This coming-of-age story of a Samoan girl won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for The Best First Book in the Southeast Asia and South Pacific Region.

where-we-once-belonged

Summary

Alofa Filiga is a typical teenager who tries to navigate her way through the transition from being a girl to becoming a woman. Together with her friends she explores the new and exciting world of adulthood while gossiping about boys, love, lust, and all the things that grown-ups do.

Although for Alofa life is never boring, it isn’t always as good as she would want it to be. She quickly discovers that the bumpy road of adolescence gets even bumpier when one lives in a place where two cultures collide. Reconciling tradition with modernity seems to be virtually impossible, especially for a young and naïve girl succumbed to the will of other people.

Review

The first sentence of this novel is about a woman’s vagina. Pacific authors hardly ever write about vaginas. This shows, right off the bat, how brave Sia Figiel is. And you already know that the book you’re holding in your hands is going to be groundbreaking.

When you think about coming-of-age titles about Samoa, or Pacific Islands in general, you probably have this instant thought coming to your mind: Margaret Mead. Her study of the Samoan youth is indeed an anthropological classic. But, let’s be honest here, what can a white woman from some faraway country know about living and growing up in Polynesia? Is she really more knowledgeable than someone from within that culture? I dare to say she isn’t. Sia Figiel, on the contrary, provides readers with the first-hand account. Having been brought up in the Samoan Archipelago, she demonstrates competence as well as thorough understanding of what she is writing about.

The substance of her novel might be quite shocking to some people, especially those not familiar with Pacific cultures. The author’s honesty in describing Samoans’ attitudes towards sex, relationships, love, and human body seems almost too brutal to believe. The myth of promiscuity and sexual freedom that Margaret Mead established in her book gets debunked. Sia Figiel unravels a completely different reality, in which a girl is beaten up for having a dirty magazine in her bag; in which absolute obedience to parents and other family members is a fact of life; in which punishment for…for what really?…is as sure as the sun rises every morning. ‘People see surfaces only, and that’s all’. These wise words from the first chapter steer readers in the right direction. Appearances can be deceptive, but there is no doubt what the life of a Samoan teenager is really like. Each and every page shows very clearly that adolescents are free only if nobody’s watching. The problem is that in such close-knit communities there’s always someone watching.

Much of the book’s power and plausibility lies in its characters: strong, intriguing, complex. They are a mixed bag of different personalities – some of whom you adore, some of whom you hate. If you analyse closely, you can notice that they represent typical Samoan traits: conformity; abasement; dominance; humbleness; kindness; attachment to tradition. Despite their apparent similarities, they couldn’t be less alike. The story lays bare a striking generation gap between older and younger Islanders – the former treat their culture as immutable; the latter try to reconcile ancestral values with the pleasures of modernity. And it seems that this silent battle can have only one winner. In Samoa, triumph comes with age.

Sia Figiel’s exposure of growing up in Pasifika is written in the most impressive way possible. The style, the rhythm, the pace make the words flow like the ocean waves. The novel has virtually no action, yet it doesn’t fail to engage the reader. This is largely the result of vivid descriptions, which let you find yourself in the middle of a buzzling market, at a girly meetup gossiping about boys, or in Mr Brown’s house looking at the box of Cornflakes (which supposedly make palagi people happy). And although you may feel that the atmosphere is a bit heavy, the occasional bouts of humour bring a wonderful (and much-needed) sense of playfulness. These are the tropics, after all. Dark clouds might cover the sky, but the rays of light are still there.

‘Where We Once Belonged’ is a big surprise. This delightful collection of vignettes shows a place trapped between the past and the present. A place where ‘we’ means ‘I’ and ‘I’ simply doesn’t exist; where some should be seen and not heard. This is Samoa far from paradise. Real, unembellished, alluring. So, are you interested in paying a visit?

A CHAT WITH… LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo is a name you should know. This very talented lady – proud of her Samoan blood – is an emerging writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her debut novel, ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’, is not only an engaging story but also a wonderful introduction to the Samoan culture. Are you interested in learning more about this title? Read on.

 LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

Pasifika Tales: ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is the first instalment in the Aiga series. Aiga is a very important word for Samoans. Is this why you chose it to interlink your stories?

Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo: ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is my very first instalment focused on family life and customary norms in Samoa. Aiga means family in Samoan. Aiga is very important to the Samoan people. Whether it is a family that’s close-knitted or a crabs-in-a-bucket type of family, it is sacred and everyone belongs to one. The aiga in Samoa is also a core curriculum of its own, where a child experiences the good, the bad, the beautiful and the odds about family, but at the end of the day of course, ‘family’s all we got.’

PT: Could you describe briefly what the series is about?

LPA: This series is ultimately a reveling story about the Samoan life, a humble beginning and family values. It exhibits a humble upbringing of a Samoan family which depicts a relatable experience for most Samoans. My upbringing is a compendium of mannerisms, respect, strict discipline, the church, culture and a covenant of ‘family over everything’. ‘Lovefolds…’ depicts a viewpoint for each character about his or her upbringing, especially a close-knitted life in a Samoan family. This book is focused on the beginning especially. Which means every single extraordinary person got their start in a simple way. They all have something in common and that is the beginning.

The fluidity of Pintail ensembles a continuance of ‘Lovefolds…’, but differently in a way that when the children leaves home, they will adapt into the Westernized life in America. They will see places they’ve seen on TV commercials, huge airplanes, tall buildings and also experience a life without Mom and Dad nearby and open stores on Sundays – everything rare or doesn’t exist in the islands. ‘Pintail…’ describes a notable cliché that most Samoans have adapted to in a unique way. No matter where we are in this world – through distance, changes and Westernized influences, a foundation grounds us to remember that through it all, our lives were weaved from a structure of God, family and culture.

And then I have ‘Colorful deeds’ and ‘Blessings Unfold’ coming along which are going to be inspired by my adventures around the world.

PT: What (or who) was your inspiration?

LPA: My inspiration is truly my upbringing and the ones who gave me that upbringing. By observation, the love Samoan parents invest in to see their children grow, helped me to not only write but to adapt well in a melting pot of diverse cultures and changes when I left home. I wanted to move away from the archipelago to seek opportunities and travel the world. Joining the military became my foot-in-the-door opportunity to transfer a canvas of what I was seeing into a mosaic of different settings in my stories.

PT: The first book of the series introduces readers to the Tala family. The way you portrayed the characters is quite marvelous. Did you base them on real-life people?

LPA: I did base them on a real setting from encounters and experiences around friends as well as families. Like the character of Iulia – she’s a combination of many Samoan mothers and neighbors in my upbringing. Lectures and earful sessions are quite frankly a common norm for the Samoan mother and that particularly inspired my Iulia character. I wrote a lot of what I experienced into most of my characters too. From things I’ve heard and experienced myself, I was able to mold my characters well in this book. These particular moments and experiences written into each chapter became a relatable aha moment for my readers. Common experiences helped me to shape a lot of the events in my book, while other familiarities exhibits events still remarkably withheld under taboos.

PT: The story of the Tala family is solidly anchored in Samoan culture. Could you explain – especially for those readers who are not familiar with the islands – the values that constitute the core of Samoan way of being?

LPA: Samoan values are relatable to most in mannerisms and dogmatic practices which surfaces among people. Respect is common. Basic etiquettes and the respective way of treating people professionally and personally are also common. Love, respect, and honor goes beyond values people embrace in the Samoan culture. These values are a representation of us, our ancestors as well as the Samoan culture.

PT: Would you say these values are still present in the everyday lives of Samoan people? As we all know, cultures constantly evolve.

LPA: I know that we are still able to practice and embrace our culture freely because of these core values. It has been 3000 years since the Samoan culture evolved around changes from the first explorer received on the shores to the European settlers who brought the word of Jesus Christ to the archipelagos. These values are very much present and still echo around the cultural functions, family events and ceremonies practiced by the Samoan people today.

PT: Now, your next book, the second instalment in the Aiga series, is due to be released in June. What can you reveal about it?

LPA: Yes, ‘Pintail Foundation’ is the second book of the Aiga Series. It is a continuation of the Tala Family’s voyage. Tala’s children are all leaving home, one after another, and most of their experiences is a cultural shock. I received several inquiries about its name. But it’s just my own modest title which follows a Samoan proverb. In Samoa, there’s a Samoan proverb that my people are well versed in that goes, ‘E lele le toloa ae ma’au I le vai.’ – ‘No matter where a gray duck flies, it will always return to its wetlands’. Wherever Samoans may pursue endeavors in this world, they will always remember the tides, biomes, and aura of their beginning. From cities, skyscrapers and countries afar… home remains unforgotten to Samoans.

PT: Apart from the Aiga series books, are you working on anything else at the moment?

LPA: I’m currently working on literary journals with my writer’s associations. Outside of that, I focus my writings on the growing issues in West Papua. I like to write blogs and short stories when time permits. Other times as a reviewer for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship, I review essays and stories by younger generations in our South Pacific ring, who shares stories and common goals about life as an Asian Pacific Islander and attending college.

‘LOVEFOLDS OF OUR UPBRINGING: A FAMILY’S JOURNEY IN LIFE’ BY LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing: A family’s journey in life’ is a contemporary fiction novel set in American Samoa. The book is Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo’s paperback debut and the first instalment in the Aiga series.

LOVEFOLDS OF OUR UPBRINGING

Summary

One cannot raise children without instiling within them a proper set of values. Helping youngsters establish their moral compass is a mission no parent can take lightly, and Iulia and Tala are keenly aware of that. With great passion and consequence they pass on the Samoan way of being to their sons and daughters, teaching them humility and respect for others in the hope that they will grow up to be considerate and caring people succeeding in their adult lives.

Review

As a writer you know that you only get one debut, and you should use it wisely. Create a book you will be proud of, and – preferably – a book people will want to read. Easier said than done, right? But if you are a Pacific writer (yes, you may just call me biased here), the chances are your debut will be fabulous; or even totally shamazing.

Such is the case with Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo, whose debut novel immediately shows what a gifted and engrossing storyteller she is. Part one of the Aiga series is so enjoyable and pleasant to read that it literally makes you impatient for the next title.

The story of an average Samoan family will resonate mainly with the author’s target audience. Pacific Islanders will surely find it easy to relate to the characters, their actions and behaviours. Being connected by cultures based on the same (or similar) values, they will understand each sentence significantly better, have more reasons to laugh and an excuse to cry. For them, this book will be a piece of home; something familiar, intimate, and recognizable. I cannot but take notice here, that despite the rising popularity of so-called ethnic literature, Pacific peoples are still under-represented in popular fiction genres. Why can’t we see in major bookstores bestsellers with a protagonist that comes from Samoa, Tonga, Niue, or Kiribati? Why can’t a person living in Europe or the East Coast of the United States pick up a novel with a Pohnpeian hero and not wonder what the word ‘Pohnpeian’ really means? (I will deliberately ignore the ignorance of some human beings, who don’t know – and what is worse don’t care – that on our planet Earth there is a region called Oceania, as that’s not the point here). Let me tell you why: because the very few Pacific books that get published are aimed primarily at Pasifika readers. Unfortunately, ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is no exception in this regard.

I am all for incorporating indigenous vocabulary into stories, as this adds authenticity and is simply a beautiful adornment. However, if such book is to be accessible to a wider audience, the ‘foreign’ words and expressions should be translated. Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo uses Samoan almost as often as English, which – I want to emphasize this one more time – is utterly wonderful; for people who know both languages. If you don’t speak Samoan, you will have trouble comprehending a great number of lengthy passages. This is certainly a downside of this novel; the only one, nonetheless quite annoying.

Even though this first instalment of the series is bereft of a typical plot – where you can easily identify the purpose of the narrative – it draws you in. You feel as if you’ve been watching someone’s life through a peephole. The characters are remarkably plausible, their experiences solidly anchored in reality. As you travel through the pages, the principles of Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way) charmingly unfold before your eyes, enabling you to understand the peculiarities of this amazing culture.

Reading Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo’s books is a real pleasure. She is an excellent writer who refuses to forget about her roots. ‘Lovefolds of Our Upbringing’ is a dream opening of the Aiga series. You can’t help but wonder just how good the second instalment will be.