About Me

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Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel

Where We Once Belonged
(Pasifika Press, 1997)
This book is challenging in that there is an awful lot of Samoan language peppered throughout and if you don't understand Samoan then you feel as if you're missing out on chunks of the story. The other thing which confronts readers is its unconventional structure. It doesn't follow a conventional linear narrative. Instead the reader gets the feeling that they are thrown in among a group of reminiscing or indeed gossiping teenage girls that they've never met and who continually lapse into their mother tongue or change the subject. The effect is actually engaging. You see how life in a Samoan village revolves around family and how this can be both a blessing and a burden. The central character Alofa struggles to assert herself and draw away from family expectations. Her friends are colourful and controversial and their stories are all fascinating.
   The book contains a sprinkling of mythology and shows how this ties the people to their land. People are depicted in a blunt way and Figiel's imagery is evocative. There are even a few poems in the text which also work well.
   I can't say I understood everything in this novel, but it was an eye-opening journey into adolescent life in Samoa in the 1970s. It also won the Commonwealth Writer's prize for the Asia Pacific region in 1997.

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