Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Frangipani by Celestine Vaite

I had a different review waiting in the wings, but had to pull it so I could get my thoughts out before they flew away!  The library here is an excellent resource for all books from or about Polynesia, so it was easy to get my hands on a copy of Celestine Vaite's novel Frangipani.  I picked it up last night to try out the first chapter, and 200 pages later, had to go to bed!  Needless to say, I had to get my review out while it's fresh in my mind.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, " Her name is Materena Mahi, and she's the best listener in Tahiti. Materena starts her new job as a professional cleaner at the same time she becomes the mother of her beautiful baby girl. Leilani is a challenge almost from the start, posing questions ("Why doesn't it snow in Tahiti?") that seem to Materena not worth wondering about. What matters to Materena is passing along her own special wisdom.  Everyone around Materena seems to admire her cleverness and generosity, her appreciation of Tahitian tradition - everyone except perhaps Leilani, who has her own ideas about love, family, and island ways."

Review:  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.

Here are the next two books in the series:

FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off of a library copy of the novel.

I've had this on my TBR pile for ages, and counts for my 5th in the TBR Challenge.

If you've reviewed this book, I'd love to hear  your thoughts!  Let me know and I'll check out your reviews.


  1. We don't have holes in our carpet--yet--but that's a good idea with the potted plants.

  2. This one sounds like a good read; I’m glad there are funny scenes thrown in even though it’s about complex family relationships. I added this to my ‘to be read’ list, thank you for the great review :)

  3. This one just sounds so interesting. I was disappointed my library didn't have it-I might have to break down and buy the series at some point.

  4. I read Frangipani a few months ago and really enjoyed it; I have Breadfruit from the library right now & want to get to it soon!

  5. heidenkind--I know. Isn't that an awesome idea! :) I also loved the "sexy loving" bit.

    Lua--It really is a great one! I thought it was fun to read, and went by pretty quickly. I hope you can get your hands on it!

    Buckeye Girl--I hope you can find it!

    Eva--My library doesn't have Breadfruit! Can you believe it?!? I might bite the bullet and buy it, since the library then has book 3. Go figure! I'll have to see what you think of them too. :)