Tag Archives: Sia Figiel

‘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.

‘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?

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

‘Where We Once Belonged’ by Sia Figiel

Sia Figiel is one of the most interesting Pacific authors, whose books you just want to read from cover to cover.

‘Where We Once Belonged’ concentrates on Alofa Filiga, a 13-year-old girl living in Samoa. As any other teenager, she has her joys and sorrows, problems she tries to deal with, and great expectations towards her future. Navigating through the restrictions of her culture, she makes the most of each day.

It’s a powerful coming-of-age novel. It reads extremely well, even though it is full of Samoan words and phrases some people will have trouble understanding. The storyline may surprise you a few times, so be prepared to have some of your emotions stirred up pretty well.

PACIFIC WRITERS YOU SHOULD KNOW (PART 2)

Tanya Taimanglo

Tanya Taimanglo is one of the best-known Chamorro authors. Although she’s been living in the US for quite a long time now, her love for Guam can be easily noticed in all of her works.

A versatile writer, Tanya pens books for children, the most amazing and thought-provoking short stories, and marvelously good novels. Her exceptional writing skills, wit and wisdom, as well as gentle sense of humour make every title a true pleasure to read.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Those who are interested in climate change has probably already heard Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s moving poem ‘Dear Matafele Peinem’, which she recited during the opening of the 2014 UN Climate Summit. And this is only one of many incredible pieces this talented Marshallese artist has created.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet, writer, performer, and journalist. Her poems are more like stories than anything else – poignant, straightforward, focused on raising awareness about some of the most important issues. They’re deeply touching when read. When declaimed by the author… It cannot be described. It must be felt.

John Saunana

John Saunana was a great poet and novelist from Solomon Islands, whose books – most notably his fictional story that depicts the country’s colonial past – are one of the best works in Melanesian literature.

The author wrote only one novel, which is very unfortunate considering the enormous talent he had. ‘The Alternative’ is therefore a must-read and virtually the only way to get acquainted with John Saunana’s genius.

Sia Figiel

Sia Figiel is unquestionably one of the most acclaimed female novelists from the Pacific Islands. This woman of great insight and even greater talent is, much like Albert Wendt, synonymous with Samoan literature.

In her books, Sia Figiel focuses on culturally important themes, which are gracefully wrapped in her beautiful, poetic prose. She delights, amazes, provokes. She entertains and moves. She captivates. But most of all, she leaves no one indifferent.

Lehua Parker

The one name that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about Children and Young Adult Pacific Literature is, of course, Lehua Parker. Indeed, she is most famous for her excellent Niuhi Shark Saga. However, and this is something you might not know, she also writes (equally excellent) stories for a little bit older readers.

All of Lehua Parker’s tales are set in Hawaii and ooze that mysterious Hawaiian charm. With each page you get to know the incredibly fascinating culture of the archipelago slightly better, you understand more, and you discover the world you may not have realized existed. Young or old, this author has something for everyone!