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The Charm Buyers

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4.22  ·  Rating details ·  32 ratings  ·  6 reviews
Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for Excellence

The Charm Buyers describes extraordinary beauty and turbulent change: Tahiti during the last years of French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1990s.
A love story, a tale of magic, a bildungsroman, a chronicle of cultural change, The Charm Buyers unfolds on many levels, tracing growing consciousness against nuclear testing. Marc
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Paperback, 328 pages
Published January 31st 2017 by Latitude 20
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Ann Gelder
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Howan's novel of intertwined lives on Tahiti captivates from the very first sentence. A love story that's wistful and funny, it gently delivers harsh truths about history, colonialism, and the widely shared human tendency to get in one's own way. Beautiful.
Olga Zilberbourg
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This novel is set in the 1990s, on Tahiti. Marc Antoine Chen, of a wealthy Hakka Chinese family, has been more or less abandoned by his parents and grows up surrounded by large extended family, without any interest in education or family business. The novel is told from his point of view, in the course of a few years when he finishes school, goes into Army service in France, and then returns to Tahiti to start his own, largely illegal business. I would describe this novel as a Bildungsroman, tho ...more
Jill Koenigsdorf
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The things you've heard about me-they're true, especially the lies." So begins the lush, mesmerizing novel by Lillian Howan. Her Tahiti is a place of rumor and mystery, of half-seen things, and of the far-reaching connections between her characters. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and gossip travels freely via the grapevine aka radio-cocotiers. "You could drive around the island of Tahiti in two hours, in a day, in two days..." she says, yet the way Howan explores the layers of the place, ...more
Rebecca Lawton
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
No one writes the South Pacific like Lillian Howan. Gorgeous prose, superb dialogue (I really feel myself in the conversations), intimate knowledge of the subject paradise. Just as Howan lures a reader in with the beauty of the tropics and the sense of belonging to a community--she turns the view upside down, so subtly it too me by surprise. Howan plies her magic so deftly I didn't know where she'd lead me on sea breezes and scent of fresh flowers til I found myself close to the characters in he ...more
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Marianne Villanueva
It's the book's powerful language that pulls you in: hypnotic, dreamlike, thick with unease, it's a language that floats, but also contains so much melancholy. I read this book very very slowly, because that's how anything this carefully written demands to be read. You will discover a culture that is new (the Hakka culture of Tahiti) and rich and strange but never exoticized.

Bravo to the author.
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Lillian Howan spent her early childhood in Tahiti and later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the editor of Wakako Yamauchi’s collection, Rosebud and Other Stories (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011). Her writings have been published in Asian American Literary Review, Café Irreal, Calyx, Jellyfish Review, New England Review, South Dakota Review, Vice Vers ...more

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31 likes · 12 comments
“You could drive around the island of Tahiti in two hours, in a day, in two days. You could pass the slower cars, the pick-up trucks with their loads of mothers and kids in ragged T-shirts, the bicycles turning in lazy circles by the side of the road, the bony yellow dogs trying to cross – if you never stopped, the drive could take less than two hours, provided that you weren't entering or leaving Papeete during the morning or late afternoon traffic jams. At the other extreme, you could visit every relative living around the island – your aunt who ran the general store in Papeari, your uncle who worked at the gas station in Mahina, your countless cousins who were expecting babies or who had just given birth, your grandmother who lived with your aunt who lived with your great-aunt...this type of tour de l'ile could take an entire day or two or three days.” 1 likes
“When I fell sick, A-tai brewed a medicine, something with an onion root and leaves and the crumbled bits of the horrible things that would make you well.” 0 likes
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