There are no bad books here. Frangipani was far and away the most enjoyable read, though I wouldn’t class it among the world’s great books. The overwhelming preoccupation of all of these books was the impact and aftereffects of French colonialism and the destruction of the traditional Polynesian way of life. Though ethnically French Polynesia remains predominantly Polynesian, the twin forces of christianization and colonization have profoundly impacted the way of life in this island group, a fact with which its inhabitants are grappling as they struggle to forge a cultural identity in the modern world.
Books read, ranked (as always) from favorite to least favorite:
- Frangipani, Célestine Hitiura Vaite, 2004
- Les Immémoriaux (A Lapse of Memory), Victor Segalen, 1907
- L’Île des rêves écrasés (The Island of Shattered Dreams), Chantal Spitz, 1991
- Varua Tupu: New Writing From French Polynesia, Frank Stewart, Kareva Mateata-Allain, and Alexander Dale Mawyer, eds., 2006
My Cook Islands literature was a little heavy on outsiders. Robert Dean Frisbie, Tom Neale, and Lydia Davis all came to the Cooks as adults; Johnny Frisbie (Robert’s daughter), Tom Davis, and Alistair Campbell were born in the islands but spent very little of their youths there (this is partly due to the fact that any Cook Islanders whose parents can afford it seem to go to New Zealand for school). Kauraka Kauraka appears to be the only author on this list who spent most of his childhood and adult life in the country, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend Dreams of a Rainbow to anyone. In fact, The Frigate Bird is the only one I’d read again or inflict on any of my friends.
- The Frigate Bird, Alistair Campbell, 1989
- The Island of Desire, Robert Dean Frisbie, 1944
- Lali: A Pacific Anthology, Albert Wendt, ed., 1980
- Dreams of a Rainbow, Kauraka Kauraka, 1986
- Doctor to the Islands, Tom and Lydia Davis, 1954
- An Island to Oneself, Tom Neale, 1966
- The Frisbies of the South Seas, Johnny Frisbie, 1959
Pitcairn, mostly known for being settled by mutineers and beloved of Queen Victoria, and rising to prominence recently with a pervasive pedophilia scandal, has apparently never produced any home-grown writers. Glynn Christian, a New Zealand-born descendent of Fletcher Christian (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, and the progenitor of many of Pitcairn’s inhabitants), is the closest thing we can get.
- Fragile Paradise, Glynn Christian, 1982