Posts Tagged ‘Tahitian Literature’

I rarely go to literary festivals these days. Almost never. This is very odd, because I have read books since I was a kid and my favourite fantasy was always to meet a writer in person and have a nice literary conversation and get a signed copy of a book. But after going to book launches and standing in queues trying to get my copy of a book signed and feeling that the whole thing was being rushed and the crowd was too much, the romance of book launches and literary festivals disappeared for me. But there was a time I loved literary festivals, in principle, without having attended one. I discovered Célestine Vaite’sBreadfruit‘ during my visit to my first ever literary festival, which ended up being my first and last one. Célestine Vaite was scheduled to give a talk at this particular litfest, but I somehow missed that. But I got this book of hers, when I discovered that she was a Tahitian writer. I had never read a Tahitian writer at that time (still hadn’t before I read this book) and Tahiti always sounded like a fantasy place for me, after reading Somerset Maugham’s novels and discovering Paul Gauguin. This book lay on my shelf for years and a few days back I decided that the stars have aligned and the time has arrived.

Breadfruit‘ tells the story of Materena. Materena is a professional cleaner. She lives with her partner Pito and they have three kids. The book is divided into many short chapters, and each chapter describes an anecdote from Materena’s life or about someone she knows, her family members, cousins, friends. Tahitian extended families are big and so Materena has lots of cousins, and so there are lots of fascinating stories. Célestine Vaite’s prose is simple and spare, and the stories are charming and are filled with humour. But as Optimus Prime says, there is more to the stories than meets the eye. Within that deceptively simple style, Célestine Vaite tackles fascinating topics – the themes covered include family life, the relationship between mothers and daughters, love, the importance (or unimportance) of marriage, the relationship between native Tahitians and French expats, the complicated politics in Tahiti and the resentment some people feel against the French government, the Tahitian economy and how hard it is to get a good job, how Tahitians straddle between Catholicism which they practise now and the ancient Tahitian religion which was practised by their ancestors – these and other interesting themes are explored in the book. The author says in the interview at the back of the book that many of these stories were inspired by actual happenings. It shows when we read the book.

Breadfruit‘ is a charming depiction of Tahitian life from an insider’s perspective. Célestine Vaite rips away the tropical fantasy image we have of her homeland and shows us the real Tahiti. It is beautiful. I loved it. Célestine Vaite wrote two more sequels to ‘Breadfruit’. I can’t wait to read them. The last book of the trilogy came out in 2007. I was hoping that Célestine Vaite would have written more books since then. But it appears that there are no more books after that. None. Nada. It is like Célestine Vaite just disappeared. I don’t know what happened. Three books is just a very slim body of work. I hope she comes back one of these days and writes a fourth book. And then a fifth one. And more.

Have you read ‘Breadfruit‘? What do you think about it?

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