The Marriage Proposal by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

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The Marriage Proposal by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A feel-good, funny novel about modern Tahitian life, by an islander.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0099490128

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The Marriage Proposal was originally published widely as Breadfruit. It was Celestine Hitiura Vaite's first novel, but the third book in the Tahitian trilogy to be published in the UK. Having missed out on Frangipani and Tiare, I'm in the fortunate position of having started at the right place and I'm definitely looking forward to reading the rest.

I'd recommend it as a good standby for a dose of flu – the bed-bound variety where pessimism aches in your joints. If you want to be anywhere but your sweaty body, a feel-good novel set in Tahiti might provide just the vehicle (a truck in these parts, not a bus) for a quick recovery. But first of all, you'll need to slow down to Polynesian time, because this author has a sure touch and isn't going to be hurried in telling her tale.

Materena Mahi is mother of three, partner and daughter, with an extended family of voluble cousins, departed ancestors and the Virgin Mary Understanding Woman. She is jerked out of her customary contentment when her partner, Pito, suddenly proposes marriage one drunken night. Materena really wants a wedding ring and framed certificate for her wall, but she's forced to conclude that Pito doesn't really mean to go through with a ceremony. Indeed, when she takes us back to their courtship thirteen years ago, she admits that she persuaded Pito into that wonderfully-named 'sexy loving'.

Nevertheless, when Materena locates a new bed as the principle wedding gift for the imaginary wedding, she mentally scouts round her relatives for likely contributors. Her anecdotes provide an entertaining whistle-stop tour of an island society. Matarena's innocent comments offer plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour: …it's really funny to think about two sumos doing the sexy loving… Her affectionate indulgence provides a feel-good wrap, as the novel swings along to its satisfying, if fairly predictable, ending.

What I particularly enjoyed was Pito's propensity for chilling out on the sofa, taking sickies and getting drunk. I'm sure real women in Tahiti can be exasperated and worse by this modern version of traditional Pacific masculine roles, but Matarena accepts everyone's idiosyncrasies as part of the lifestyle. This doesn't prevent her delivering snappy one-liners to her hapless man (…Matarena tells her man to get off that sofa if he wants to help her …). The sing-song Polynesian rhythm pervades the story with its authenticity.

As an affluent Westerner, I caught myself feeling privileged and humbled that Materena was sharing everyday basics with me – how to stand up for yourself when your electricity is cut off, the relief of being able to wash clothes when the rain stops. Importantly, every hungry family needs a staple but potentially lethal breadfruit tree in their garden. Rightly or wrongly, I found myself shelving this novel alongside travel memoirs of the Pacific.

But before you, too, are carried away with Vaite's affectionate idyll, take French lessons and buy a one-way ticket to Tahiti, a note of caution: this is classic henlet, and the author now lives in Australia!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

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Buy The Marriage Proposal by Celestine Hitiura Vaite at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Marriage Proposal by Celestine Hitiura Vaite at


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