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5.0 4
by Célestine Vaite

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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.


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.

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.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
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Read an Excerpt


By Celestine Hitiura Vaite

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2004 Celestine Hitiura Vaite
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-11466-9

Chapter One

The Day You Came to Me

When a woman doesn't collect her man's pay she gets zero francs because her man goes to the bar with his colleagues to celebrate the end of the week and you know how it is, eh? A drink for les copains! Then he comes home with empty pockets, but he's very happy. He tells his woman stories that don't stand straight to make her laugh, but she doesn't feel like laughing at all. She's cranky and she just wants her man to shut up.

Finally he falls asleep. He wakes up with a sore head and says that he'd like some slices of roast beef and lemonade.

Well, Materena is fiu of all this!

She's not asking Pito to give her all his pay down to the last franc. She just wants a few thousand francs, that's all. Just enough for food, gas, kerosene, washing powder, and bits and pieces for their son. That is why it is imperative that Materena collects Pito's pay, to which she believes she's absolutely entitled. She's Pito's cook, cleaner, listener, lover, and she's the mother of his son. It's not as if she does nothing all day.

Materena asks Pito if she could collect his pay, with sugar in her voice and tenderness in her smile.

"Don't even think about it, woman," Pito snaps, flicking a page of last week's newspaper. He tellsMaterena about his colleague whose woman collects his pay, and how all the others mock him. "Who's the man and who's the woman between you and your woman? Who's the noodle? Who wears the pants? Who wears the dress?" they taunt him. Pito doesn't want the same thing to happen to him. When you have no respect at work and the colleagues mock you from seven thirty in the morning to four in the afternoon, both behind your back and to your face, your life is hell. You don't get invited to the bar on Friday afternoon.

On Thursday night, Materena combs her hair wild-style, rubs coconut oil on her body, sprinkles perfume behind her ears, and attacks Pito with caresses just as he's about to drift off to sleep. Pito opens his eyes and chuckles. And while Pito is busy satisfying Materena, she's busy thinking about collecting Pito's pay, filling her garde-manger, painting the house, buying a new oven. The future and not just tomorrow.

Materena often imagines herself old, with her gray hair tied up in a thin and tidy bun. She's sitting in a colonial chair and Pito, old too but still handsome, is standing behind with one hand on Materena's shoulder and the other leaning on a walking stick. They are in a photo studio.

Materena moans with pleasure because Pito sure knows what he's doing. She loves him so much right now. She adores him. He's the king of the sexy loving.

"Pito, I love you!"

With a grunt, his nipples harden, Pito sows his seeds. After the romance, Materena tenderly and lovingly strokes Pito's hair as he falls asleep with a smile, his head nested on Materena's chest. Materena hurries to ask Pito about his pay before he falls unconscious. "Pito, cheri ... You're so wonderful ... your muscles are so big ... Can I collect your pay?"

Pito's answer is a tired whisper. "Non."

That con, that jerk! Materena yells in her head. He only says oui when it suits him! Well, sweet water is over. Materena lifts Pito's head off her chest and plonks it onto his pillow.

The following Thursday Materena (one hand around nine-month-old baby Tamatoa sitting on her hip and the other stirring the breadfruit stew) asks Pito, who's just walked into the house, about his pay.

"Are you going to leave off about that pay?" Pito growls.

"Non!" Materena's answer is loud and clear.

"You want the colleagues to laugh at me?" Pito professes again how he sure doesn't want the colleagues to laugh at him. He doesn't want the colleagues to say behind his back: "Between Pito and his woman, who's the noodle? Who's the boss? His woman, she wears the pants? Who slaves by the machine five days a week? Pito or his half?"

Materena, who didn't even have enough money to buy a can of tomatoes for the stew, explodes, "Ah! It's your mates who decide these days? It's not you? It's your mates who wash your clothes, who cook your food? It's your mates who open their legs when you need?"

Pito gives Materena a cranky look and stomps out of the house.

"Pito?" Materena calls out, rushing to him. "You're not eating?"

But he's gone.

Materena and Pito have a miserable week. There's no yelling-no drama. Pito doesn't talk to Materena, and he sleeps on the sofa.

A few times Materena tries to lighten up the atmosphere, but Pito refuses to cooperate. When Materena tells Pito, "It's hot, eh?" he doesn't reply. When she irons his clothes in front of him, Pito looks at the ceiling. When she asks him if he'd like to eat corned beef with peas and tomato sauce or corned beef with breadfruit and tomato sauce, he shrugs. But he eats everything. He even has second servings.

Four times Materena says, "Pito ...," and waits for him to say a word, but he's lost his tongue.

Days pass.

A week ...

Gradually things get back to normal. Pito sleeps in the bed again. He agrees with Materena that it's hot. He smiles. He rakes the leaves. Materena forgets about his pay. Materena smiles.

Then Materena finds out she's pregnant. She cries her eyes out because she's happy but at the same time she's devastated. Another child, with the pay situation still the same! Materena can't believe what's happening. Aue eh ... eh well, the baby is conceived, she tells herself. Welcome into my womb and into my life. Now, Materena decides, she will simply have to collect Pito's pay.

Materena is very nervous as she opens the office door. She's wearing her old faded brown dress. She wants to make the right impression.

"Iaorana." Materena does her air de pitie to the young woman at the reception.

"Iaorana." The woman's greeting is polite and professional. A bit abrupt too because, so Materena understands, the woman doesn't know who she is and maybe she's mistaking Materena for someone who's here to sell something to eat. So Materena reveals her identity (I'm with Pito Tehana, he works here, we live in Faa'a behind the petrol station, we have a ten-month-old son, he's with my mother today for a few hours, etc., etc., etc., and how are you today?).

Minutes later Materena knows that Josephine has a tane and a fifteen-month-old son. She lives with her tane's parents but that's only temporary, she's looking for a house to rent. Josephine's mother-in-law is a bitch woman. Josephine's father is a postman. Josephine's mother died a long time ago, she fell out of a tree. Josephine was in labor for forty-eight hours with her son, Patrick. Josephine's tane just stopped smoking ...

Finally there is a silence and Materena can explain her delicate situation.

Josephine immediately understands. "Aue oui, of course," she says. "There's food to put on the table ... There's bills to pay ...

No problems." She gives Materena the envelope with Pito's name written on it and Pito's pay in it and asks Materena to sign her name in full in a black book-the picking-up-pay procedure. After the procedure, Materena opens the envelope and takes Pito's pay out. Then she puts back one thousand francs. There, that should be enough for Pito to buy himself three beers at the bar tonight.

Less than two hours later Materena is in her house feeling very happy as she puts away the cans of corned beef, the packets of rice, the washing powder, and the chocolate biscuits for Pito. The family-size can of Milo that was on special and ... what else did Materena get? Ah, mosquito coils, two cans of salmon for Pito, a bottle of Faragui red wine for Pito, soap, aluminum foil, shaving cream for Pito. Materena's arms are sore from carrying the shopping bags, but she's not complaining. It hurts more walking home from the Chinese store carrying just one can.

After putting away all the goodies, Materena steps back to admire her pantry stacked to the maximum. Nothing compares to a pantry that is stacked to the maximum; an empty pantry is so sad to look at. Materena hopes Pito is not going to be too cranky with her. She hopes he's going to be very happy about the salmon, the chocolate biscuits ... and the baby inside her belly.

At quarter past midnight, the baked chicken is still on the table, but it is now cold and stiff, and Materena is still waiting for Pito to come home.

He's absent the whole weekend and by Wednesday he's still missing. To explain things to the relatives who ask where Pito is hiding, Materena invents a story about Pito looking after his sick mother. Six relatives, including Materena's mother, say, "Ah, that's nice of Pito to be with his mama when she's sick. I didn't know he was like that. We learn things every day."

Pito makes a brief appearance one Friday morning very early to inform Materena he's leaving her, and she can keep his sofa, but he's taking his shorts, his shirts, and his thongs. Materena, half awake and standing still like a coconut tree in the living room, wants to shout, "Stay! I'm pregnant and I love you! I'm never going to pick up your pay again! I swear it on top of my grandmother's grave!" But she just looks at Pito from under her eyelashes as he turns around and leaves.

She remembers herself with him in the shower and they're embracing like they're under the rain. She pushes the soap away with her foot. The last thing she needs right now is to slip on the soap and crack her head open.

She's with Pito under the frangipani tree behind the bank and he rips her sexy black underpants with his teeth before she has the chance to tell him that they're not her underpants, they're her mother's from a long time ago when she wasn't religious.

Pito busts a wall to install a shutter so that more light and fresh air come into the bedroom. Materena passes him the nails. He doesn't know what he's doing and she tells him what she thinks. He gets cranky and yells at her. She yells back at him.

Pito is gone now, and Materena walks to the kitchen to get her broom. She starts sweeping long, sad strokes.

She doesn't know what else to do.


Excerpted from Frangipani by Celestine Hitiura Vaite Copyright © 2004 by Celestine Hitiura Vaite. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Frangipani 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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)
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago