He smiled when she used “Our son” as if there was a time when Tomi wasn’t.
This line is from the beautiful novel by Paulini Turagabeci and it reminds me of the lyrics in one of my favourite songs, “I was found before I was lost”, which to me is the perfect description of unconditional love.
We are loved because we are, and that’s all there is to it really. There’s nothing you can bring to the table that will add or subtract from this unconditional love and this is why this book has been special to me. It describes love in its simplest form and that, in the backdrop of a Fijian community with its ethnic divide and religious richness, we still can feel and recognise this beautiful human emotion.
It starts by highlighting the love between Tukai and his little Tomi who was orphaned as a baby. The drama and misery faced is not of Les Miserables scale but when Victor Hugo wrote, “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that one is loved’, the sentiments expressed between the two are the same. Tomi is convicted that his Tukai loves him and it is this Le Supreme bonheur de la vie which radiates out of him and makes everyone in his circle love him as well.
This is seen in how the motley crew of neighbours, church boys, lawyers and school mates show small acts of kindness for this pair whose future seemed irrevocably sealed by fate. Of this bunch, one of the most endearing characters is Aaji. This is clear from the very first instance that her character is introduced, “It is an unspoken rule that neighbour’s make a call to the home of a new neighbour when they first move into the neighbourhood. But not Bimla Wati”.
The book also touches on the relationship of an omnipresent father and an errant son whose embittered past add to the demons of his present. Ms Turagabeci takes this idea of love of a heavenly Father, who sees us in all our infirmities yet loves us still, and places it alongside that of a human father who loves little Tomi even though he has only yet heard of him. She beautifully does this in such a way which shows how we humans are capable of reciprocating this act of love from above laterally. The grace in which Tomi and Tukai handle the painful circumstances they go through also provides a window of this goodness to us the readers.
..It was this resignation, this que sera sera, when it settled over Tomi, showed Ilai a side of his grandson no other situation would have brought about.pg 221 The River
Also, the additions of scenes which can only be in Fiji will leave Fijians in the diaspora feeling nostalgic for that piece of home. I have never crossed the old Rewa bridge on foot much less dipped my toes in the Rewa River but Pau’s description of it left me feeling that I had taken dips there countless times before. It is nice to read work of a writer who speaks the same language as you. One who understands the nuances of the life you’ve led and whose narrative has the ability to shift perspectives and flings the door wide open for the acceptance of our vernacular into the mainstream literary world.
This young Fijian author has done well with her first novel weaving a plot that we all can relate to. I stand in awe of what the future holds for her writing and the work she will go on to produce. During the Talanoa Session with Marama Alliance UK, she spoke about how she had always loved writing from an early age, stapling pages together to produce her first books. She has come a long way from stapling and A4’s and her ability to complete a book from start to finish is perhaps a reflection of her drive and character. She has a few more projects up her sleeve and our book club community wait in anticipation of what those will be!
Furthermore, she adds that the arts sector in Fiji needs to be strengthened and supported so that young people can understand that there are opportunities for a life supported by the arts rather than aiming solely for the traditional careers. This is something our team at The Platformm has always believed, that there are artists, writers and poets there in small villages around Fiji who are filled with so much talent that the world has not yet heard of. We may have a shoestring budget but our aim is that talents like these and that of Paulini Turagabeci are brought to the forefront and that readers like you and I get to add people that speak our language into our reading list.
So this is my short take on this book and I have loved reading it very much. I hope you all can get to read this first novel by our talented home-grown author and you can help us discover more hidden home grown talents out there by dropping your comments below. You can also read the MAUK sister review by the Leonora Sinclair here.
Love and Blessings,