Tag Archives: Samoa

‘NEW TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC – PARADISE NOT’ BY GRAEME KENNEDY

‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’ is the first book written by Graeme Kennedy. This collection of five stories, which describes the reality of life in the Pacific Islands, is based on Kennedy’s own observations as well as his incredible knowledge of the region.

NTOTSP 1

Summary

Travelling through the Blue Continent, Graeme Kennedy gets a chance to visit some very interesting places and encounter even more interesting characters.

In the village of Aka’aka (Wallis and Futuna), he meets a man whose only dream is to return to the hustle and bustle of a big city. In Pago Pago, he spends his time at the hot and steamy bar with quite a few attention-grabbing individuals. He then escapes to Niue, where a middle-aged New Zealander changes his life, teaching everyone a lesson. After that he finally departs to Samoa to talk to a French priest who has chosen to serve God by helping people in Lepea village.

Review

The first thing you’ll notice about this book is how fantastically written it is. As a former journalist, Kennedy definitely knows how to put thoughts and feelings into words. His writing style – elaborate yet very clear, attractive but not overwhelming – makes the stories a pleasure to read while his imagery – powerful, vivid, and precise – makes the stories come alive. As everything, from landscapes to neighbourhoods, is depicted in the slightest detail, you’ll get a chance to ‘explore’ the surroundings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a luxury resort, a stunning beach, or a sleazy bar – you will ‘see’ it all. You will even feel the heat and humidity slowly surrounding you… Ah, that tropical paradise!

Speaking of which, are those islands really heaven on earth? In the eyes of Graeme Kennedy, they are not. After starting the book with a wide-ranging commentary on the history of Polynesia and its current situation, the author makes a great comparison between the so-called Eden and the actual South Pacific, which – just like any other place in this world – has its dark side. You’ll suddenly discover that not every street resembles the picture-perfect images from travel brochures, ever-so-friendly natives need to deal with their own problems, and tourists do not always get what they came for. But somehow the Blue Continent is still fascinating and magical. Even if it’s shown from a different perspective.

The stories in Kennedy’s compilation vary widely. Some of them are tragic, some are sad, some are simply hilarious. But they all have one thing in common: they are deeply thought-provoking; they change the way we perceive that blue land of bliss. Mind you, they change the way we perceive our world.

The book is short and can be read very quickly. It’s just perfect for a lazy evening spent at home or an even lazier afternoon spent at the beach. I am sure you will love it, especially if you enjoy travel writing with a twist.

A CHAT WITH… LIMA HANSEN

Lima Hansen is an extraordinary person. She is a survivor, a fighter, a believer. She helps others. She gives hope. She encourages. But she is also a very talented writer. Her memoir, ‘Grace Brought Me Here’, is a book everyone should read. Lima was kind enough to answer a few (very important) questions.

LIMA HANSEN

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to write ‘Grace Brought Me Here’?

Lima Hansen: Get to the point of writing the book was a bit of a journey. I had taken up a role, pioneering a home for sexually exploited women. In order to partner with an organization that was already working with rescuing girls I had to become transparent and authentic with their mission and plight and doing so meant sharing a part of my story with them. They were not interested in the fact that we were foreigners coming into lend a hand. What they needed to know was, did we understand the heart behind their organization, and I believe my story was able to connect with that. As time went by, more opportunities started opening up where sharing part of my story was found to be adding value to others. My husband then approached me with the idea of writing a book. Which at first I laughed off, like an impossible task. However, after a couple of months thinking about it, I realized that if the only obstacle that was holding me back was the actual task of writing a book, then it wasn’t a good enough excuse. Because by that point I understood the power my story had in adding value to others still navigating through the broken parts of their journey. So my purpose outweighed my fear.

PT: Was it difficult to write such a personal book?

LH: I think the difficult part was reaching so far back into my past and giving certain images and feelings words. Transporting myself back into the different spaces to capture a 360-degree view of those times. Then write it all down and describe it in a way where readers would feel they were in those moments with me, was very difficult. However, I went into each moment with a great sense of knowing that I am far removed from those times, places and emotions now. I’m not that person anymore. I believe very strongly that I can not have been the only one to endure such brokenness. So I kept the shadowed faces of those that may find my past recalls as their present struggles near the front of mind. This helped me to push forward, believing that I am reaching out to many with a story of hope and courage. A story that tells people that ‘you are not alone’.

PT: Has your family had a chance to read your memoir? What was their reaction?

LH: Actually, the book came after an event that I was a guest at, in which I shared parts of my story. They watched the event on a live Facebook feed. After which I received messages of support and tears from them, as they started to open up about different parts of their childhood, including the older generation of my family. So when the book was finally published, it was well received. I had originally used Samoan names to describe their characters but later, with their permission, I made the decision to use their real names. The book has become somewhat of a tool that has unplugged some unspoken parts of many different members of my family’s own journeys, giving them words to a lot of their own forgotten pain. Of course, there are parts of my story that they were not aware of, which brought tears to them and a sense of reconciliation over the lost years. This book has done more healing for us then I could ever have imagined.

PT: I’d say that the book, even though it’s quite grim, gives hope. Do you agree?

LH: I certainly hope so. I made a strong point to be as a real and as transparent as I could. I didn’t want to fluff over, sugarcoat or minimize the dark and broken parts, because those moments give the purpose of hope an even stronger and more determined footing. It sets the precedence that hope belongs here.

PT: Domestic violence is a big problem in the Pacific. In your opinion, why?

LH: I think domestic violence is an epidemic in every part of the globe and no one culture or ethnicity is immune from it, with 1/3 women globally experiencing it throughout their lifetime. Which means there is an overwhelming amount of children that are seeing these behaviors as a way of managing anger and emotions. Like many other cultures, secrecy has allowed a lot of these behaviors to remain hidden. I have witnessed our Pacific culture using pride as a shield to excuse away it’s excessively hard hand in the disciplining of others. Displaying a false sense of perfection to those looking in has given things such as domestic violence a place to thrive. Disguising violence in a cloak of what is labeled as love, whether that is in a religious setting or within the family and wider communities. As I said earlier this is not just a Pacific island epidemic, this is humanity everywhere if we are prepared to look deep enough.

As victims, you are stripped of any worth, broken down to believe the lies that keep you chained to a perpetrator emotionally and physically. When you are stripped of everything, anything becomes better than nothing. Growing up being a Pacific Island women meant being treated as second class, the lesser of the sexes in every setting. Fearing the rejection and further punishment from the curated community placed around us by our perpetrators. This only meant that is was much harder to come out of and that much harder to have a voice, to speak about the violence and be heard.

PT: Would you say that the situation now is better than it was in the past?

LH: Things are changing, times are changing. Pacific Island women everywhere are discovering how strong, courageous and resilient we are, how vital our voices are in shaping the world around us, for us and for those following our echoes. We are being more intentional with taking the lead in creating the communities around us, we are learning to embrace each other’s vulnerabilities rather than fearing its impacts. We are no longer afraid of our own strength and how others would respond to it. So in this sense, our self-awareness as individuals is getting better. However, domestic violence on a larger scale is still on the rise and unless the wider communities and our government start to talk about it openly with transparency and authenticity to empower the victim, not the perpetrator, to create systems to prevent a breed of new perpetrators then I believe our movement forward will always be out of reaction rather than prevention.

PT: What advice would you give to Pasifika women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse?

LH: Find a safe person to talk to. Get an escape plan in place. Then when it is safe, leave. As a survivor of abuse, we need to understand we are not the problem, there is nothing wrong with us and we CANNOT save or change them. The longer a person stays in a violent and abusive relationship the more at risk they are of losing their lives. As overwhelming as leaving maybe or even the thought of creating a new future is, the benefits of leaving far outweighs the dangerous nightmare and prison that you currently living in. Trust me when I say you are not alone in this journey. There is someone out there that has walked out of the exact same situation that your fear is holding you to. Your life is too valuable to be spent living in a relationship where the fear of what is to come next, is consuming your mind, body, and soul. You can do this. Don’t underestimate the person you were created to be. Strong and courageous.

In all honesty, I could go on here, it’s a place where building blocks are essential because you don’t just wake up one day and you’re all of a sudden brave. It takes time to sew the seed and then believe it for yourself. For many of us women who have left abusive situations it takes a great deal of time to get our minds and hearts to that brave place. For a large majority of us, it takes several tries at leaving before we reach the no return zone. When we hit that zone, there’s no turning back. It’s the love zone when we learn to love ourselves and believe that we deserve better.

PT: How can other people help if they know their relative, friend, neighbour, colleague is a victim of domestic violence. What can or maybe rather should we do?

LH: Creating a nonjudgmental safe place to talk is a great start. Learning to empathize with the individual is a great skill to learn. Brene Brown has a great video on YouTube that teaches about the difference between empathy and sympathy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

For a lot of people that I talk with I try to focus on them, not the perpetrator as such. What I mean by that is, usually a victim views the perpetrator with a sense of love and adoration and can often block out the negative side, so going into a conversation with them by attacking the perpetrator can further isolate the victim and create a block in the victim speaking out. As a listener, it’s extremely hard not to get emotional over someone being hurt, but we must refrain in attacking where possible. We need to make those moments of courage for the victim all about them.

So I often guide conversations to where the victim can talk about how they are feeling about what has been said or done to them. Then suggest various individuals and organizations that could help according to what they have shared. It’s important to remember we are not to take on the role of a qualified counselor but provide a safe and nonjudgmental place for them to speak. As a listener, we should try to encourage them to seek further help. So we are not left feeling completely burdened with the responsibility to save them.

PT: For many people faith is a way of dealing with tragedies. What has faith taught you?

LH: For me, I had to take full ownership of my faith much like my healing journey. It wasn’t enough to float on other people’s belief systems. I needed to be intentional about what faith looked like for me. I needed to be brave enough to step out and question things and do the research needed along the way. We can’t use our faith as a hiding place for too long for what lays hidden beneath. Our faith needs to grow to the point that gives us the courage to be at our weakest part of the healing journey and know that we cannot remain there but that we need to find the strength and wisdom to work through things and move forward.

We must get beyond treating our faith as a passive hobby or limited to a building or a day of the week. My faith gives me a strong foundation, that allows me to fail on the best of days and get back up. It’s like a bungy safety cord. If I venture too far from it in regards to entertaining old mindsets and behaviors. it bounces right back to where my hope comes from, where my faith is anchored which is in God. On the other side of that. If there are things I need to deal with that benefit my movement forward, then I do so knowing I am attached and anchored to God. So taking that scary leap into the unknown, so the fear no longer holds my heart hostage.

PT: Do you have any regrets in life? Is there anything you would have done differently?

LH: Yeah definitely. I have a handful of regrets, some of which weigh heavy on my heart but have informed how I deal with things now. Which I think is the best way to deal with regrets, using them to our advantage.

I believe if we focus too much on the what if’s there is the danger of living on the negative side of regrets and failures. My past is riddled with things I should’ve done differently; however, I would not be the woman I am today if I had not walked through some of those very tough life lessons.

PT: Could you name three places/things/activities worth visiting/seeing/doing in Samoa.

LH: I wish I could speak from experience with this question, but truth be told, I’ve never been back after being born there. My culture was not one I embraced growing up. It was one that was used to heavily abuse us. So when I could finally escape my home life, I made it a point to disconnect from every part of it, including my culture and it’s rooted. However, there are parts of my culture that have been embedded into me such as the traditions, customs, and my language. Things which could not be so easily discarded. Now that I am a mother I understand the importance of giving my children the opportunities to learn and grow into their culture and heritage in ways that encourage their curiosity rather than scare them from it.

In saying that, the place I would like to visit most, would be my birthplace – Faleasiu. I would love to learn more about the history of our family. I have a lot of questions. I would love to visit our family members that I have never met, sleep in the homestead that my mother grew up in. I mean I won’t lie, I think it will be quite an emotional trip. I think doing this trip with my mother and aunties would open up many stories of courage, strength, heartache, and grief. Some of which are starting to be told since the writing of my book. I think being there I would be overcome by emotions because of the beauty that will continue to come from being amongst these brave, strong women who have withstood trials and tribulations to finally be at a point in their grace journeys to give their stories the power of their voice.

‘GRACE BROUGHT ME HERE’ BY LIMA HANSEN

‘Grace Brought Me Here’ is a memoir penned by Lima Hansen. It tells the author’s story of discovering faith and purpose in life.

GRACE BROUGHT ME HERE

Summary

Little Lima’s life is not an easy one. Physically and emotionally abused by her father, she dreams of an escape.

When she cannot take the violence any more, she decides to leave her family home. She falls in love with a man but quickly realizes that he isn’t her saving grace. After years of humiliation and despair, an unexpected turn of events takes place and Lima finally finds what she’s been looking for.

Review

This is an extremely hard book to read. But if you’re thinking right now ‘Ok, so I won’t read it’, let me tell you that if you decide otherwise, as soon as you start the first chapter, you won’t be able to stop until you reach the last page. Consider yourself warned.

The cover of the book doesn’t reveal what’s inside. You see a stunningly beautiful, smiling, self-confident woman, and you are certain that it is going to be a yet another insignificant memoir-cum-guide about discovering your self-worth with hundreds of useless tips you can easily find on the Internet. But then you begin to read the opening sentence – ‘Our days as kids rolled into nights. We did whatever we could to avoid coming home to hear our father’s footsteps stomping around the house, trying to find something that would enforce punishment on us. Hearing my mother begging for him to spare us.’ – and you just know that this is no such book.

The first half of Lima Hansen’s story is covered in darkness. The heart-wrenching memories of the abuse she suffered are told with such honesty and rawness that you can feel the author’s excruciating pain and sadness. The vivid descriptions not only paint the pictures in your mind, but they stay with you far longer than you would want. The pages are filled with brutality, sorrow, grief, hopelessness, and resignation. Especially that Lima Hansen doesn’t hide anything; she is as open as only the bravest person can be. She isn’t afraid to write even about her own bad decisions and wrong choices, like substance abuse, abortion, prostitution. Not everyone would find courage to do that.

The mood changes in the second part of the book. When the author starts experiencing God’s loving grace, she begins to believe that there is light at the end of every tunnel. Suddenly, the pervasive gloominess is replaced by optimism, hopefulness, and – yes – happiness. You can see how Lima’s life slowly transforms; how she learns to cope with her past and accept it. And, just as Lima, you feel that you can do anything, achieve anything, and be exactly the person you want to be. Simply look at yourself through God’s eyes – you may be surprised at what you will see.

‘Grace Brought Me Here’ is a fantastic read that I wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a compelling account of one woman’s journey of self-discovery, which might turn out a real eye opener for you. It is thought-provoking, uplifting, and very personal. If you feel that you could use a friend right now, let Lima be the person.

‘OCEAN’S KISS: A TELESA WORLD NOVEL’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is a standalone novel in Lani Wendt Young’s Telesa World series. It tells the love story of Daniel Tahi’s father, and is set in contemporary Tonga and Samoa.

OCEAN'S KISS

Summary

When Ronan Matiu comes to Daniel’s workshop, Leila instantly knows that this man isn’t just an ordinary customer. He may be a stranger, but she has seen him before. He looks all too familiar. He looks like…her husband Daniel, twenty years from now.

Ronan’s life wasn’t meant to be this way. He wanted a family and a peaceful existence with the woman he fell in love with a long time ago. But Moanasina walked away from him, leaving Ronan heartbroken and confused. Despite the bitter words she said, he simply can’t get her out of his heart and head.

After meeting Ronan, Daniel’s life gets stirred up again. His past is coming back to haunt him. He must decide if he will embrace his Tongan heritage and stand alongside the Vasa Loloa sisterhood of his mother’s people.

Review

‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is Lani Wendt Young’s return to the world of Pacific mythology. Although the book is described as a ‘standalone novel’ in the Telesa World series, I don’t think it can be treated as such, as some parts might be slightly confusing for those who haven’t read the previous volumes. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach for this title if you are not familiar with the other books in the series, but you will definitely enjoy this novel more if you read the entire collection.

It is never easy for an author to come back to the characters and storyline from the earlier volumes. The readers have certain expectations – quite rightfully so; after all, they have read the preceding books. They want to stay in the ‘place’ they know oh-so well, and yet they anticipate something new. One has to be a very gifted writer to meet this challenge. Or, one has to be Lani Wendt Young.

I won’t lie, ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ is a real treat primarily for the author’s fans. Those who have visited the world of Telesa before will be delighted to ‘meet’ Daniel, Leila, and Simone once again. But even those who have never had any of Lani Wendt Young’s books in their hands will quickly get hooked. Because the story itself is truly captivating.

Despite being heavily anchored in mythology – much more than the other titles in the series – the novel has a very contemporary feel to it. It strikes a perfect balance between the ancient Polynesian lore and the modern times. This combination of the past and the present makes for a unique reading experience and ensures that you will stay glued to the pages until the very end. Especially that the story isn’t purely about love, but covers a wide range of topics and themes. The author writes about loss and heartbreak, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about difficult life choices, and even about environmental issues. That’s surely a lot for one book, but in ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ everything is so smoothly intertwined you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Taking into account that Lani Wendt Young has a wonderful way with words, the novel is a joy to read. It is exceptionally well-written. The descriptions – which quickly transport you to the bewitching islands of the Pacific – are vivid yet not voluminous, and the author’s distinctive sense of humour lessens the seriousness of certain topics, making the book a light-hearted but still thought-provoking read. If only the newly-introduced characters were a little more defined, ‘Ocean’s Kiss’ would be close to perfection.

You can never go wrong with Lani Wendt Young’s books. They are all phenomenal. This title is no exception. So if you want to immerse yourself in the world of Pacific mythology and stay in the 21st century at the same time, this is the novel for you.

‘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.