This is a triumph of a collection in short story writing. Lani Wendt Young was born in Samoa, studied in New Zealand and the US, before returning home to teach English. In 2018 she was also made the ACP Pacific Laureate. Her writing is as lyrical as it is moving, with influences of the traditions of English literature as strong as her beloved Samoan culture.
Topics in the collection range from assisting white boys ‘date’ (or not, as the case may be) Samoan girls, to domestic abuse, to a brave girl and her encounter with a snake, to the life of a school teacher. The variation keeps the reader continually turning and seeking the insight of such a talented and effective writer. There is just so much to love and to study in this range of stories: ‘We love the Samoan People’ is, by itself, a treasure trove of analysis and interpretation.
The first short story is more of a sequenced narrative in ten mini chapters - numbered in the Samoan language - that act as a kind of overarching narrative that feels semi-autobiographical, but also highly relatable. The interspersion of Samoan language adds a nice addition for teaching purposes and highlights the importance of recognising the culture and expectations of other nations. From a teaching and learning perspective, there is a huge wealth of opportunity to develop the themes and characteristics present in the text. But, ultimately, from a reading perspective, it is a collection that will be enjoyed so much, it is likely to be completed in one sitting - a while since there has been that experience with a short story collection. Not hard to see why it was a New Zealand Book Award finalist.
While the stories are beautifully written and have highly engaging content, there must be a warning about the presence of abuse in several of the stories, both physical and sexual. However, with a collection of the short stories, the beauty is always that one may pick and choose easily enough.
Overall, this is a brilliant selection of writing, and one that has the potential to stick with readers and teachers alike. The language is accessible for high school students and the stories are immensely teachable with a raft of opportunity in the content. A wonderful read and an engaging resource!
Title: Afakasi Woman
Author: Lani Wendt Young
Publisher: One Tree House
Reviewer: Chris Reed, Macleans College, Auckland
How are you recommending this book? Recommended
Opening line: I barely recognise her. She is beauty and grace in a black and white photo.