Frangipani is a pleasant read. It focuses on the relationship between Materena, a hardworking, family-oriented Tahitian woman, and her brilliant, headstrong daughter Leilani. The book begins before Leilani’s birth and follows the family until she’s an adult. It is not a plot-driven sort of novel; short chapters explore various incidents in the family’s life, as well as that of the community.
As I said, I enjoyed this. It is a sweet book, Materena and Leilani are strong characters, the story stays interesting even without a single driving plotline, and it provides a fun way to learn about Tahiti and its culture. Distinctive word usage and speech patterns make their way into the text, giving the novel a feeling of authenticity (which makes sense, since the author is Tahitian). I have to admit that while other readers have found the supportive relationships amongst the women of the extended family heartwarming, my enjoyment was somewhat counterbalanced by irritation with the men. Materena’s husband, Pito, is presented as a typical Tahitian man, and has almost nothing going for him – he’s unsupportive, lazy, self-absorbed, and drunk half the time. There are a couple better examples of men in the story, though.
Overall, this book is nothing earth-shattering, but it is certainly pleasant. Though this was apparently the first of Vaite’s books to be published in the U.S., it has both a prequel (Breadfruit) and a sequel (Tiare in Bloom). While I can’t claim much interest in the prequel, about Materena and Pito’s romance, the sequel sounds sweet and I may check it out one day.