Tiare in Bloom, by Celestine Vaite. Published: 2007 by Back Bay Books.
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Tiare in Bloom is the third and final book in Celestine Vaite's trilogy starring heroine Materena Mahi, a Tahitian cleaner- turned-radio-host. The first two, Breadfruit and Frangipani, cover Materena's marriage to longtime partner Pito and her efforts to raise her children right while changing careers mid-life. The third book, Tiare, is told mostly in Pito's voice, as he struggles to heal a wound in his relationship with Materena, raise his infant granddaughter, help his son Tamatoa accept his own responsibilities as a father, and help Materena find her own biological father, a Frenchman who visited Tahiti during his military service.
Sounds like a handful, non? Materena, Pito and their family are a handful- the family seems to include just about everyone on their island, and the drama is nonstop. But Vaite's novels are sweet and gentle, and everyone always get a happy ending. I read Frangipani first, after I picked it up as an ARC at a conference, and it was one of the first really pleasurable experiences I had reading light fiction. Now, Vaite's books may be light but they're not trashy beach reads- Vaite is the first native Tahitian to win the prestigious French Prix litteraire des etudiants, and not once but twice- once for each of her first two Materena books.
But I don't expect you to read her books based on awards. Vaite's books are about family, and love, and growing up and growing together- things everyone can relate to. The Tahitian setting is rendered deliciously through descriptions and most of all through Materena's (and Pito's) voice- Vaite's rolling tri-lingual narrative, English peppered with French and Tahitian, written as though it's being spoken. (And you know I love anything French.) Vaite says on her website that Tahiti is a country of oral storytelling and reading her books is like visiting- relaxing and listening in. I've called them "hammock books" in the past, because that's where I like to read them- on warm summer afternoons in my back yard, lolling in a gently swinging hammock. Even when I read them indoors on a cold rainy day it's like bringing the summertime inside.
And Tiare in Bloom is the sweetest treat of all. Vaite chose to have Pito tell this story after her fans told her they'd like to hear his voice, and at first I was a little put off by this (for me) unexpected choice but I grew to really like Pito and I'm glad she chose to tell the story this way. There are two major crises looming in Pito's life- his wife Materena is angry at him and he knows not why, and a woman shows up with a baby girl, claiming the girl is Pito's granddaughter, the result of a union between the woman's great-niece and Pito's son Tamatoa. Once her parentage is confirmed, Materena and Pito rally to look after the little girl (named after Tahiti's national flower), with Pito taking the lead and relishing his role as grandfather. Meanwhile, Materena is trying to find her own father, who lives a world away and may or may not even want to know her. The story takes a little time to get going, but the ending is well worth it. I was in tears by the last two or three pages, and you will be, too. I love these books!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.