Winter blahs got you down? Would a few hours in Tahiti lift the spirits? In "Frangipani," debut novelist Celestine Hitiura Vaite has created the perfect guide: Matarena Mahi, professional housecleaner and mother of three. Matarena, who knows all the rules for living, is the best listener on the island.
At least, everyone believes this but her daughter, Leilani, whose constant questioning is wearing out her mother. "Aue, Matarena was much more comfortable with her daughter's questions when they weren't complicated: Who invented the broom? (A woman).... What time does the first star appear? (The first star appears at quarter past six.) Who invented the wheelbarrow? (A woman.) Is God a woman or a man? (God is everything that is beautiful.)"
Matarena's journey from cleaner to Tahiti's answer to Oprah makes for the most memorable debut for a character since "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" introduced Precious Ramotswe to the world. And her rules are priceless: "Never visit a woman who's just given birth looking your best"; "Don't eat in front of people if you can't share"; and "Even if your heart feels like it's being crucified, you still have to wave to relatives."
Generous and funny, "Frangipani" offers all the warmth and delight of a tropical vacation, without the jet lag. Best of all, there are two sequels to come. Grade: A
- Yvonne Zipp