Good Reading : June 2006
JUNE 2006 ı goodreading 17 cover story family as well as continuing the storytelling tradition. With each book, Célestine writes with a particular reader in mind. Breadfruit was written for her mother and is the start of Materena’s story – a woman with three children, who wants a ring on her finger and a framed certificate on the wall. The second book, Frangipani, was inspired by Célestine’s own daughter and is the story of a mother wanting the best for her daughter, not wanting her to fall for the first boy who promises her a life of babies, cleaning and worrying. Underneath the humour and family drama, there is a loving look at the relationship between mothers and daughters. Her latest book, Tiare, is written for one of her sons, who has suddenly become a lot more interested in what his mother is writing. Tiare is a refreshing look at the shifting roles of men in society at different stages of their lives. Boys are indulged by their mothers and family and are allowed to get away with not doing too much around the house. And we both agree that this seems to be the case with most societies. ‘Traditionally, a baby girl is left to cry because it is good for her lungs, but a baby boy – ssshhh, sshhh, we don’t want him to hurt himself.’ The traditional working life of men in Tahitian society has changed. Up until 1960 most Tahitians were involved in subsistence agriculture and fishing, but when the French program of nuclear weapons testing began in the early 1960s, ‘the balance was upset, everything changed and society was dislocated as people adjusted to a new way of life. Men had to adapt to a different way of working and supporting a family.’ This dislocation is reflected in Pito Tehana, Materena’s husband, who tries to maintain his patriarchal authority over the family. But with a strong woman holding the family together, if a man doesn’t deliver support both financially and emotionally, he can’t command the respect he traditionally assumes he’ll get. Young men are allowed their freedom in Tahiti, and it is socially acceptable for men to be tough, hands-off parents. As they get older and become grandfathers, they are allowed to become soft and to discover the joys of their grandchildren. Célestine has become an inter national literary sensation, travelling the globe and attending writers’ festivals in Europe and the United States. After an intense bidding war between international publishers, her trilogy has been sold into the United States, Canada, Italy, Ger many, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Brazil. Breadfruit was the winner of the Prix Littérairee des Étudiants, Frangipani was published to rave reviews, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2005 and longlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize. This amazing success is not something Célestine ever dreamed of. It’s taken her many years of ‘doing my writing around my life’. In the early days, time for writing would be snatched ‘after the kids had gone to school and late into the night, when everyone was asleep and I could settle down with a glass of wine’. Success hasn’t gone to her head. Célestine sees it as the perfect opportunity to improve literacy among Tahitian children. She sees her profile as leverage to push those in power to do something about education, encourage children to read and help them expand their vocabulary. ‘Tahitians are great talkers, when they are with their own people they talk and talk, but put them overseas or with people outside of their com- munity and they lack the self-esteem to continue talking. They don’t have the confidence in their vocabulary to speak out and voice their opinion.’ On her recent trip to Europe, she talked to the Minister of Culture in Paris about starting a foundation to develop literacy programs for other cultures. Twice a year she goes back to Tahiti to run workshops for teenagers in Years 10, 11 and 12 to help them pass the Tahitian equivalent of the Higher School Certificate. A large percentage of teenagers are failing and losing their chance to further the education her own mother ferociously insisted on. She also knows that writ- ing can give teenagers a chance to express themselves and start exploring the world outside their own community. Célestine says that she has another trilogy in her, but she’s in no hurry. ‘There are so many other things that I need to do.’ Tiare was published by Text last month, rrp $29.95. A new edition of Breadfruit is published this month by Text, rrp $22.95. A new edition of Frangipani will be published in July by Text, rrp $22.95. Célestine sees her success as a perfect opportunity. Twice a year she goes back to Tahiti to run workshops for teenagers to help them pass the Tahitian equivalent of the Higher School Certificate.