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In Tahiti, it's a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all—or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.

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In Tahiti, it's a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all—or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this whimsical, charming novel (her first to be published in the U.S.), Vaite introduces readers to proud "professional cleaner" Materena Mahi, one of the spunkiest, wisest, lovingest women on the island of Tahiti. With her combustible husband missing after a minor domestic squabble, Materena learns she's pregnant with a daughter. What will she do? Move on-until Pito moves back, of course. "Girls hurt their mother from the day they come into this world.... Girls are a curse," say some island women, but Matarena is delighted with her baby, Leilani, who soon grows into a free-spirited, curious, and sometimes troublesome girl. Materena instructs Leilani in all the folk knowledge of Tahiti-e.g., "To get rid of unwanted guests without hurting their feelings, broom around their feet"-but she can't answer all Leilani's impossible questions ("Who started the French Revolution? What's the medical term for the neck?"). Materena decides to send her to a good Catholic school, but if Leilani makes her a grandmother before she's 40, she's going to scratch out her eyes. Of course Leilani falls in love too young, which is just one of the family troubles Materena weathers with patience-and passion. This story of love, gossip and growing up (even at 40) has all the irresistible freshness of a warm breeze. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This cross-generational story brings Tahitian traditions, culture, customs, and family to life for readers. The main character, Matarena, is a mother who initially stirs up trouble when she decides to collect her husband's paycheck at his job before he has the opportunity to spend it drinking with his friends. In retaliation, Pito, father of her children, walks out on her, leaving her pregnant. Matarena, no shrinking violet, takes it upon herself to become an independent woman for the first time in her life, with a job as a professional cleaner to provide the income for her family. The daughter she bears, Leilani, does not become the typical Tahitian woman. Stubborn and set her in ways, Matarena tries to instill the same values in Leilani and not lose her to those around her. Readers, especially mothers, will relate to wanting what is best for their children and the trials and tribulations of raising a family. The book's insightful look at Tahitian life makes readers discover that families are families no matter the country. 2004, Back Bay Books, Ages 14 up.
—Rosa Roberts
Library Journal
Vaite, a Tahitian living in Australia and an established literary force in that country, makes her American debut with this lovely and transcendent mother-daughter story. Materena follows the path of many Tahitian women by bearing children at a young age, marrying, and cleaning people's houses. While pregnant with her second child and first daughter, Leilani, Materena restyles herself as a "professional cleaner" and becomes indispensable in a wealthy woman's household. Meanwhile, Leilani is a challenge from her birth, always questioning the ways of the universe. Materena uses her spare resources to buy her daughter an encyclopedia, encouraging her to expand her mind and make her way in the world with her brain rather than her body. As a young girl, Leilani is an academic star, but will she turn her back on her potential when love intervenes? After much trial and tribulation, both mother and daughter find a future bright with promise. An intriguing slice of Tahitian life, this is highly recommended for academic and public libraries and a good book club choice as well.-Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A warm and lyrical look at the fabric of family life in Tahiti. Tahiti's languorous inhabitants always seem to end up on Materena Mahi's doorstep-and she just can't keep herself from meddling in their lives. In Materena's world, there is always time to comfort and commiserate. The most common woe? Adult children drifting in and out of their mothers' lives like the tide. This debut novel follows Materena as she raises her three children and endures a tumultuous relationship with her husband. She has lofty aspirations for each of her offspring and fusses over them endlessly. Her children receive Materena's infamous lists for living, including rules for keeping secrets, tenets of giving birth and mandates for visiting foreign countries. As her nest empties, Materena is left to contemplate her future. For decades, she's literally swept aside her needs working hard as the island's most reliable house cleaner. On her 40th birthday, Materena summons the courage to change. Tossing aside her broom, she launches a career as the Oprah of Tahiti, dispensing homespun advice over the radio. Vaite has crafted an unforgettable heroine: Materena is passionate, clever and never without words of wisdom or a bit of folklore to share with a troubled soul. By the end, the reader is left wanting more, more, more. The good news: There are two more installments to come. Vaite uses words to paint a vivid Tahitian landscape worthy of a Gauguin painting and delivers a memorable story about big dreams on a small island.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316114660
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 2/7/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 878,848
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 18, 2013

    Frangipani is the second novel by Tahitian author, Celestine Hit

    Frangipani is the second novel by Tahitian author, Celestine Hitiura Vaite and the second book in the Materena Mahi series. Materena is a champion professional cleaner whose forte is her discretion. This instalment describes the highlights (and lowlights) of Materena’s life from her twenties to her forties, in a series of vignettes of everyday Tahitian life. Vaite includes many traditional Tahitian rules in the form of Materena’s Welcome to the World and Welcome to Womanhood for her daughter, Leilani. Much of the advice is practical and wise; some of it pointless and baseless if,  nonetheless,  amusing. Secrets for the grave are explained; confessional detectives feature; words that can cut you are elucidated. Materena’s Rules for Being a Visitor, when her son Tomatua goes overseas, are both sage and sensible. With the support of family and friends, Materena goes from professional cleaner to a position where she can facilitate women to help, warn and encourage other women. Vaite’s personal experience is obviously drawn on for this uplifting novel which was shortlisted for the 2005 NSW Premier's Literary Awards and longlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize. Funny and inspirational.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2006

    wonderful novel

    As a native Pacific Islander reading this, I was able to not only grow in my appreciation of Pacific Island female authors, but also of our rich culture which was depicted very accurately through this piece. It is a definite must-read if you are one that is interested in what it might be like to take a peek into the life of a 'woman on the rock' :o)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fascinating family drama

    On Tahiti, after a spat with her spouse Pito, cleaning woman Materena Mahi finds she is pregnant while her husband has run away. She debates what to do in the interim while she waits for Pito to come home which she assumes he inevitably will. Meanwhile she gives birth to the precious Leilani over the next few years she trains her daughter on how to be a Tahitian, but is unable to provide her beloved child with answers to her western style questions. --- Though she detests sending her daughter to the Catholic school as she sees her daughter as a blessing, Materena does because they can respond to Leilani¿s curiosity much better than she can. Her only stipulation to her cherished offspring is to insure that she does not make her into a grandmother before her fortieth birthday. However the spirited and intelligent Leilani falls in love anyway. --- This is a fascinating family drama that provides a strong look at the culture of native Tahitians as much as the universality of love between a mother and a daughter. The story line focuses initially on Materena, but quickly switches to her relationship with her beloved Leilani. Fans of character studies (predominately two women) from a rarely seen locale will appreciate how the mom ignoring the local truism that daughters are curses raises a chip off the old block, a strong caring young woman. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2011

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    Posted July 18, 2011

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