BREADFRUIT is one of two books thus far in a series written by Celestine Vaite, a Tahiti native, that centers on Materena Mahi and her family and friends on the island of Tahiti. FRANGIPANI introduced Materena to America; "the best listener in Tahiti" is warm and generous, a natural problem solver. This first novel took us from her early days with her man, Pito, and her three children to focus on her journey to find herself. It was the story of her search for her calling in life, ending with her daughter's entrance into college and Materena's budding new career as a talk show radio hostess.
BREADFRUIT, which was originally published first, features nearly everyone from FRANGIPANI, but the plot focuses on Materena's desire to marry. Most Tahitians don't have a need to marry, but there are a few weddings here and there, and Materena is deep down envious when she sees those newlyweds speeding off in Mama Teta's wedding car. When Pito (in a drunken state) asks Materena to be his wife, she cannot contain herself. It's too good to be true (and it is). She begins planning and researching what she needs to get ready for her big wedding day. In between her planning, life goes on.
As in FRANGIPANI, BREADFRUIT is a series of chapters that takes snippets of Materena's life with anecdotes and stories about various people in her family. The stories, told in a very casual, chatty manner --- as is Materena's way --- are funny, often hilarious and sometimes sentimental. There's the incident with the carpet that her cousin Lily was to give away to Materena, and Materena uses it to give her house a new look. (Unfortunately the carpet is a vibrant green.) There's the time when she is asked to appear in court because she and her children were caught trespassing on private property. (The reader finds out later that she was actually taking her kids swimming next to the airport, running across the runway because she felt it was safer to do that than cross a busy street). Then there is Materena's attempt to buy a new bed, and her visit with her mother to her grandmother's grave. They argue over where Materena will be buried --- next to her own mami or next to her husband (in another town).
This is yet another charming novel by Celestine Vaite. She's the first native Tahitian to win the "Prix litteraire des etudiants" (for BREADFRUIT). Readers will get the feel of what it's like to live in a rural Tahitian village, where hardly anyone has a washing machine, many are unemployed, and it's the women who seem to rule with a heavy stick. Materena herself is a professional house cleaner, but she's proud of her children and what she does. Most of all, despite the problems they have, she loves her man Pito and would marry him in a heartbeat. Of course, she has her work cut out for her, trying to get Pito to own up to his original marriage proposal.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on December 22, 2010