Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book 14, French Polynesia: "Frangipani" by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Okay, okay, okay: this is another one of those developing-nation-matronly-woman-does-good books, with a Mma Ramotswe-esque main character with lots of earthy folk wisdom to deal with the modernizing changes happening around her. It’s a feel-good, women’s book club-suited novel, written in chapters which could each function as their own separate short story: a clearly patriotic novel that aims to represent its country yet limits itself to the realm of women, an Austenesque inch-length piece of ivory.

But it’s so enjoyable. The main character, the professional cleaner Materena, keeps locking horns with her intellectual daughter Leilani, negotiating the future of Polynesian womanhood. And the culture their lives are steeped in is so seductive – convent schools, discussions about independence and the death penalty, battle feuds, dishes made of breadfruit, rice, tomatoes and onions, American tourists, French gendarmes, superstitions about frangipani trees in the backyard signifying the health of given-away children – and such a liberal attitude towards sex; sex everywhere; the beauty of men and women alike. Materena even warns her daughter not to marry a man until they’ve had at least one child, so she can test whether or not he’s a keeper.

A really fun read. Now we’re going to do the voyage of the Kon-Tiki in reverse: the great voyage from Polynesia to South America (and I’m afraid Pitcairn island will just have to sit this one out, I mean, honestly, you’ve got an adult population of less than a hundred; I’m allowed to exclude you). Thanks Oceania, it’s been swell – and I’m going to look out for a few more of your authors in the future.

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Representative quote: ‘You’re unbelievable you.’ Cackling, Materena gets up and grabs her purse. She understands that young girls are too embarrassed to buy pads at the Chinese store. Materena even nows grown women who are too embarrassed to buy pads. There are always a lot of relatives at the chnese store and when they see the pads wrapped in newspaper for privacy, the whole population knows you’ve got your period, the whole population can say, ‘Here’s one who’s not going to wash her hair for the next four days.’

Next book: Pablo Neruda’s “Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquin Murieta” from Chile.

No comments: