Overview


A New York Times Editors’ Choice and a blazing and authentic new literary voice, Peter Nathaniel Malae’s raw and powerful, bullet-fast debut novel looks at contemporary America through the eyes of one disillusioned son.

What We Are follows twenty-eight-year-old Samoan-American Paul Tusifale as he strives to find his place in a culture that barely acknowledges his existence. Within San Jose’s landscape of sprawling freeways and dotcom ...
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What We Are

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Overview


A New York Times Editors’ Choice and a blazing and authentic new literary voice, Peter Nathaniel Malae’s raw and powerful, bullet-fast debut novel looks at contemporary America through the eyes of one disillusioned son.

What We Are follows twenty-eight-year-old Samoan-American Paul Tusifale as he strives to find his place in a culture that barely acknowledges his existence. Within San Jose’s landscape of sprawling freeways and dotcom headquarters, where the plight of migrant workers is ever-present, Paul lives outside society, a drifter who takes a personal interest in defiantly—even violently—defending those in need. As he moves through the lives of sinister old friends, suburban cranksters, and septuagenarian swingers, Paul battles to find the wisdom he desperately needs, whether through adhering to tradition or casting it aside.

A dynamic addition to America’s diverse literature of the outsider, What We Are establishes Peter Nathaniel Malae as an authentic, gifted new writer, whose muscular prose brings to life the pull of a departed father’s homeland, the anger of class divisions, the noise of the evening news, and in the end beautifully renders the pathos of the disengaged.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Malae's debut novel (after the collection Teach the Free Man) is a high energy rant narrated by a half-Samoan/half-white drifter trying to survive in a world bent on marginalizing seekers of truth and integrity. Malae's antihero, Paul Tusifale, an ex-con and poet, wanders the dark corners of Silicon Valley like a corrosive Midas, ruining everything he comes in contact with, whether it's a civil rights march or a wealthy patron's poetry fellowship. Paul's voice is filled with anger and intelligence, and though his rants can come off preachy byproducts of his moral superiority and self-imposed martyrdom, when he backs away from smart-ass comments, superior glares, and Shakespearean quotes, his toughness transforms into a heartbreaking shield against futility, and he becomes a man with an idea on how to save us all. The novel's at its strongest during these moments, bearing a message that in the face of the madness of the modern world, the most important thing is to know yourself and to hold onto that at whatever cost. It's got rough patches, but the voice is gold. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Twenty-eight and a self-described half-breed Samoan American, Paul Tusifale is full of contradictions. Though intelligent and well read, he's an underachiever disinterested in most people's definition of success. He has a strong sense of injustice and wants to help those down on their luck, especially immigrants, or paisas, around San José. But a violent encounter leaves him charged with a hate crime and behind bars. He is a poet and supposed lover of women, but he can't maintain a romantic or familial relationship. Paul decides to emerge from life on the fringes, get a job, and try to reconnect, but this is a challenge for someone who can't seem to learn how to walk away and accept that not every meeting will end in confrontation. VERDICT In this decidedly masculine novel by the author of the story collection Teach the Free Man, the language is often explicit and the protagonist young, disaffected, and easily provoked. Readers who enjoy other contemporary fiction authors popular with men, such as Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, should definitely try Malae. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/09: this novel won the San Francisco Foundation/Intersection for the Arts Joseph Henry Jackson Award for best novel in progress.—Ed.]—Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll., VA
From the Publisher
“A rollercoaster ride inside the haunted house of American multi cultural sin and shame. Violent and smart and funny. I am excited by this new writer.”—Sherman Alexie

“The voice is gold.”—Publishers Weekly

“Peter Nathaniel Malae is the real deal. He’s like a young Nelson Algren or Richard Wright, one of those writers who can hit with both hands.”—Russell Banks

“Gives flesh and voice to a ‘Me Generation’ poet of mixed heritage and tortured outlook.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Malae possesses a prodigious command of the masculine American idiom and its ironies. Paul is that rarest of literary creatures these days: a hard-living, oft-brawling, culturestraddling, foul-mouthed juggernaut, one who’s as liable to throw a punch as he is to break your heart.”—Rattawut Lapcharoensap

“Compelling . . . [A] deeply felt portrait of an outsider who is appalled by much of what he sees around him in a surreal Silicon Valley populated largely by grotesques. Malae’s writing is . . . filled with allusions and aphorisms that range from Nietzsche to Kerouac to crystal-meth zombies.”—Booklist

“Malae’s writing is palpably masculine . . . as if you can see the muscles bulging in his arms as he writes.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Readers who enjoy . . . Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis should definitely try Malae.”—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802197993
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/8/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author


Peter Nathaniel Malae is also the author of the story collection, Teach the Free Man, a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and a notable book selection by the Story Prize.
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