Aug 01, 10
Read on August 01, 2010
Frangipani came out of left field for me. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, and yet had picked it up on a whim, thinking that it might be interesting to read a book set in Tahiti. The bonus was that it is also written by a Tahitian writer who was born and raised there. At the risk of sounding cliche, Vaite's novel has that rich tone and style that is characteristic of contemporary ethnic fiction. The nuances in the story show the life of a Tahitian woman, Materena, who approaches her life with a selfish husband (that she loves) and demanding children with a bit of humor and philosophy. Although the story makes a few jumps in time that had me grasping for time frame, I felt centered through Materena.
Much of the story dealt with family relationships, and the complication that such a small island as Tahiti could throw into the mix. Living on such a small island often spells family members leaving to distant places, splitting up the family unit, and causing mothers to cry for their children. You get the sense that although Materena's relationship with the daughter she has is chaotic and often exhausting emotionally, that all she wants for her daughter is happiness. As with most mother, daughter stories, Materena sees her own life through her daughter's eyes, and tries to stop her before she makes any mistakes that she could sense were ahead.
Although the novel felt like a serious discussion of relationships and culture, there were so many funny scenes (some that probably weren't meant to be funny) that I couldn't help but be swept away by the story. Using potted plants to cover holes in the carpet, using terms like "sexy loving" for sex, and using arguments to forward the story had me charmed and invested in their lives. The island culture in the novel also felt very similar to what I've seen, read about, and experienced here in Hawaii, and therefore was sucked into the dialogue and large sense of family pretty quickly. I wasn't keen on the way the book ended, with what felt like simple platitudes about the grandness of women, but I now know there are two more books to follow this first one that have me eager to continue reading about Materena and her family.