Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book 12, American Samoa: "Tutuila" by Ze Lin Xiao

I'll admit it. I was going to skip American Samoa at first. After all, most people don't even know there are two Samoas (Western Samoa is an independent nation), and I just couldn't track down an American Samoan book since I'd already read Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa", which I do not recommend as a light read...

But then I surfed the Amazon Kindle Store and I got this for 99 cents:

It's by a Stanford computer science student. Go look her up. She's Class of 2011, which means she's 21 years old or something, and she wrote the short stories just to hold on to her memories of that place of few opportunities she was lucky enough to transcend.

And boy, from her descriptions of Pago Pago, it does sound like a place you might want to move away from - all the suburban nightmare of the American dream: strip malls and drunken teenagers and high divorce rates, coupled with the poverty and disease and underdevelopment of the tropics - trash and dogs in the street, roads where cars can only run 25 mph. But there's charm, of course - an abusive woman with a flower in her hair, screaming at a palagi (white) lady for daring to use the word "loofah", which sounds like "ufa", in a supermarket.

Unfortunately, most of the stories aren't very good. They don't have satisfying endings - they just dump you on the floor, leaving all these characters you want to know more about unfinished. Or they're about two paragraphs long.

Also I wish she'd gone into more detail about the half-Japanese and Chinese characters - I'll have to admit that one of the reasons I snapped up the book was because I miss writing about stuff by people with Chinese names. Cockroaches of the Earth, you know.

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

It's short at least. And it's contemporary - published just this year, in Feb! No hard copy version, either - all virtual! And the first short story, "White Sunday" is actually rather good - her descriptions have a kind of poetry to them, and the landscapes of people's lives jump right into focus.

Will she write more? So that other people doing this project can keep an eye out for the still colonised? More power to her if she does.

Representative quote: (from "White Sunday")
The second ring was from my dad. My parents met each other at Starkist, an unlikely place, but nevertheless my story is true. Mom said that Dad was packing tuna when she first met him. He was the one who trained her to operate those large assembly line machines for the cans of tuna. Two weeks later, they were stripping off clothes saturated with fish-scented perfume in the back of a pickup truck.

Next book: Kauraka Kauraka's "Return to Haivaki" from the Cook Islands.


Ze said...

Hi Ng,

Thanks for the comment on this book. Tutuila was definitely a difficult write, especially since it is hard at times to capture the essence of a world that is unlike anything that many of my readers have experienced. I wrote this when I was 16-17 years old, and I printed 100 copies of it in 2007 before I attended Stanford. I've been meaning to go back and patch up a lot of the stories but haven't found the time. Many of these stories are based off of real people that I encountered during my 16 year stay in American Samoa. I still occasionally write but had no intention on sharing it with people since very few people read my hardcopy version of Tutuila. I uploaded Tutuila onto Amazon Kindle only after a software engineering interview with the Amazon Kindle team this January. In all, I wanted to thank you for paying the 99 cents and writing this review.

It means a lot to me. Perhaps I will continue writing. :)

Ze Lin Xiao

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Hi Ze Lin,

Sorry I've taken so long to get back to you. I’ve been traveling, sick, cooped up in hotels with no free Internet connection, and the weirdest thing is, Blogger’s been preventing me from adding comments. (Fixed now!)

But thanks so much for your kind words. As an emerging writer myself, I know how much criticism can sting. I'm rather envious of you, too - you're a pioneer of American Samoan literature, and at the age of 16, too!

I hope you do continue writing. Best wishes.