The River by Paulini Turagabeci
Our Shared Shelf Bookclub (a collaboration with myself from Marama Alliance UK and Miriam Suraki of The Platformm) had the privilege of hosting our first book review session & interview with the author, Paulini Turagabeci of The River.
The interview with Pau was simply exceptional. She is both a full time writer and mother in equal parts, both roles she upholds in the highest regard which clearly demonstrates her self-discipline, drive and patience. From what I gathered, she has done remarkably well and is inspirational, in the way she speaks about her passion for writing and how she is self-made as a successful writer.
She resides in Fiji and is working on her next exciting project.
I thank Miriama for her foresight and instinct in choosing this book for our bookclub but also approaching Pau for an exclusive interview. I was only halfway reading the book when we interviewed Pau. I had to confess that I am a paperback reader at heart but caved in to finally download an e-copy of her book on Amazon (£3.99). I was in for a surprise, Kindle and The River did not disappoint. Following the interview, I was really pumped to finish her book, and I did the very next day.
The River is a heartwarming piece of fiction writing, that tells a story about a grandfather (Ilai) raising his grandson (Tomi) almost single-handedly in a meaningful way under tragic circumstances. It might appear to be a simple storyline, i.e. judging a book by its cover, but the beauty of this story is so much more. It lies in the rural community lifestyle unique to Pacific Island nations. It is in the relationships formed in a close-knit community, where your neighbours become your extended family. It is in the cultural identity of the people portrayed, how language and traditional customs continue to thrive. It is in their Christian faith and beliefs, that still play an important role in Fiji.
Pau masterfully weaves so many of life's important lessons into this unsuspecting story of love and forgiveness. I was engrossed from the start and with each twist and turn (or swipe) of the page, I was eager to get to the end but equally sad to finish so quickly. I caught myself smiling at familiar Fijian phrases or nuances that we can completely 'get' having spent my childhood and young adult life growing up in Fiji, whether its riding in a taxi (an experience in itself) or in the hustle and bustle of the marketplace or attending Fijian (Pacific Island) functions with all its feasting and fanfare.You are transported momentarily to Fiji, and I admit, I felt homesick too. And also developed a craving for fish and chips!
I also paused often to reflect on that time and space in growing up in Fiji, when life was so humble and care-free, drinking tea with biscuit or playing 'he' (wow, that took me back to the school playground)! I loved the way Tomi's character was portrayed, a respectful and loving grandchild and a blessing indeed. My heartstrings were pulled for sure during those emotional scenes, tears formed reading about reconciliation and healing, and God's hand in it all. I didn't expect that at all, and I felt immense joy reading about Ilai's coming to Christ moment.
In her interview, Pau spoke with conviction on why she wrote the way she did. She wanted to remain true to her iTaukei heritage not just by adding sentences of her mother tongue dialects to authenticate her narrative or incorporating Indo-Fijian characters at the heart of the story, but to ensure that her readers (mainly of Pacific Island or Fijian origin) can relate and be inspired to tell their own stories. She achieved this extremely well in how she wove into the story the intricate pieces and themes - family ties, customs and traditions, the elderly population, loss and grief, subsistence living, urbanisation, climate change, all of which affect Fijian way of life and continues to do so today.
Having never interviewed an author before, this was an incredible 'wow' moment for me. I couldn't help wonder if her personality influences her writing or is it the other way round, you catch a glimpse of the author between the lines? I felt so fortunate to have met the writer and read the book at the same time, the storytelling is as real and authentic as the author in person. My takeaway message from my interview with Pau is, just write!
I would highly recommend this book, for so many reasons. The most important one is that you're supporting a dream come true for a young talented female Fijian writer who I'm sure will continue to write more stories that will inspire more raw talented writers to get their iTaukei stories out. Apart from that, it has potential in bridging the inter-generational gap in raising awareness around cultural identity and the growing Fijian diaspora (or that could be another story ready to be written)! But if you're from Fiji, lived in Fiji, or want to know more about Fiji (not just as a tourism destination but as a community of indigenous people), then you'll want to immerse yourself in this one.
To that end, I'd like to share my favourite sentences from the book:
When I die I don't want you to bury me in a cemetery that you probably will never visit. Burn my remains and scatter my ashes in the river. Save land for the living.
Ilai remained true to his nature and also with Tomi's interests in mind, he chose a fitting farewell that would bring him back to the river where his life was saved and a new life began.
Thank you for taking the time to read this book review, which is solely based on my own reflections and understanding.
Also visit The Platformm (www.theplatfomm.com) for Miri's impressive book review, an outstanding Fijian female writer.
This book review is also featured in Marama Alliance UK (www.maramaalliance.com)