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Tiare in Bloom    by CÚlestine Hitiura Vaite order for
Tiare in Bloom
by CÚlestine Hitiura Vaite
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Tiare in Bloom is not just a novel. It takes us on a visit to Tahiti, to Matarena and Pito Mahi and their large extended family. We have met them before in Celestine Vaite's two previous books, Breadfruit and Frangipani, if we've been lucky enough to read those. Matarena and Pito are now in their middle years, having raised their two sons and one daughter. The children are doing fine, and the parents are settled into their routines with Pito working days and Matarena working evenings. We don't really know much about what makes Pito tick from the first two books, but Pito will tell us most of the story in Tiare in Bloom.

At first Pito, in his own words, seems much like Matarena's perception of him. Pito likes having his evenings free. While Matarena is gone to the radio station doing her show and becoming famous to all the women in Tahiti, as well as wildly popular, Pito can lounge around the house watching TV, eating whatever he wants, or he can go out drinking with his buddies, les copains. As Pito puts it, 'a man doesn't need much to be happy. Food, sexy loving, peace and quiet at night. He can breathe like he wants. His wife is at work.'

One night after drinking way too much, he is asleep when Matarena gets home. She is sitting in the kitchen thinking about the discussion that her callers have had with her on her show that evening, about fathers. She decides that it is time for her to try to find her own father, the French militaire whose name she knows but who is listed on her birth certificate as Father Unknown. Pito stumbles through the kitchen on the way to the bathroom, and she tells him what she's going to do. Pito in his drunken stupor says, 'That popa'a (foreigner)? You think he's going to want to know you?' Pito 'has just hurt his wife so deep she can't breathe.'

Now Pito is in big trouble and the next day he doesn't remember what he said, so he doesn't know why. For days Matarena doesn't speak to him, and all her aunties, cousins, and friends give him dirty looks every time he sees them. He thinks of leaving her, she thinks of divorce, but suddenly everything changes. A baby girl, Tiare, is left at their house, and Pito comes home to see Matarena holding the baby and crying. Tiare is the alleged child of their son Tamatoa and therefore their 'alleged mootua'. This baby is about to turn their world upside down.

Pito's story is so much fun to read. It's not always fun for Pito, who struggles with the changes in his life and his attitude towards life, but we delight in watching him change from middle-aged adolescent to responsible father. Vaite's writing bounces along, weaving stories of the friends and relatives of the Mahis into their story. Is Pito perhaps a little too good to be believable? Who cares, when Matarena falls in love with him all over again, and we who are reading about them do, too! I look forward to Celestine Vaite's next novel, which, sadly, probably won't be about Matarena and Pito. She has that special ability to draw her reader into the world of her novels to share the lives of her characters, delighting in their happiness and feeling their pain, without making a big deal out of it.

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