In this new BWB Text, Manualaivao Albert Wendt offers his readers a short but tantalising tour of his early life – and the influences that shaped him as a novelist and poet.
The context and contours, the sights and sounds, the myths and memories of his Samoan upbringing, in the swampy Vaipe of Apia’s backstreets, are conjured with grace and charm to impart a rare and affecting intimacy; the dislocations and cultural culs-de-sac of his arrival at a New Zealand provincial boarding school in the 1950s are by turns poignant and arresting.
But there is guile and the story-teller’s art at work, too, as Wendt himself offers: ‘… we are what we remember or want to remember, the rope that stretches across the abyss of all that we’ve forgotten’. In this memoirist’s hands, the effect, compelling in its insights and vulnerability, and deceptively plain in the manner of its telling, enthrals.
It is the story of Wendt embracing his Samoan roots and customs and, equally, his engagement with a colonising culture’s education system, one that would, nonetheless, burnish his writer’s skills. It is also a fond and frank portrait of the artist as a boy – and as a reflective elder literary statesman.
Albert Wendt’s career and published work traverse both the geography and the imaginative soul of the Pacific: he has taught in Samoa, Hawai‘i and New Zealand, recently retiring as Professor of English at Auckland University; his novels include Leaves of the Banyan Tree, Ola, The Mango’s Kiss, The Adventures of Vela and Sons for the Return Home. He is also a widely published poet and short story writer.
In advance of a major new novel, Breaking Connections (to be published in November by Huia), this original and revealing Text is a rich addition to the BWB catalogue, a generous and irresistible meditation on writing and belonging.
‘… a reader-friendly and revealing book. Wendt’s policy throughout – a wise one worth contemplating if you plan to write a memoir – is to scrutinise his own shortcomings with ruthless candour while turning a kindly eye on everyone else he names … He is eloquent on the contradictions of the divided self, gazing outwards from the rifts in his own thinking to the split thinking of all Samoans.’ Iain Sharp, NZ Listener, 3 October 2015
Maualaivao Albert Wendt has for many years been regarded as one of the Pacific's leading writers and a major influence on Pacific literature. His novels include Leaves of the Banyan Tree (which won the fiction section of the New Zealand Book Awards in 1980), Ola (which won the Commonwealth Book Prize for South-East Asia and the Pacific in 1991), The Mango's Kiss and Sons for the Return Home. He is also a widely published poet. Albert Wendt recently retired as Professor of English at the University of Auckland.