LEAVES OF THE BANYAN TREE by Albert Wendt

LEAVES OF THE BANYAN TREE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This novel by the Samoan-born Wendt (The Birth and Death of the Miracle Man, 1986, etc.), first published in 1979, is a family saga that contrasts three generations of Western Samoans as a way of exploring the effects of colonialism before and after the country's independence from New Zealand. Tauilopepe, the grandfather, who lives on his family's plantation in a farming village, wages a 30-year struggle in the face of European encroachment to extend his family's lands and acquire wealth, power, and prestige. ""God, Money, and Success"" is his credo. His rebellious son, Pepe, winds up doing hard labor after being expelled from the town school and helping to torch a Protestant church hall ""because God does not live in it."" He soon dies of tuberculosis and leaves behind a son, Lalolagi, who is taken away from his mother by Tauilopepe and sent to a New Zealand boarding school where he is groomed for success and consequently rejects the Samoan language in favor of English. Later, Lalolagi falls in with businessmen and con men of Samoan and European backgrounds, apparently newly united in their determination to exploit the independent country's resources. This book dramatically illustrates the dilemma of a family caught between holding onto old values as everything changes around them and compromising those values in order to survive. But while the reasons for Tauilopepe's single-minded behavior are clear and comprehensible from a historical perspective, they are, narratively, less convincing: His character and emotional motivation aren't fully explored. Disappointingly, women don't have a voice in this story, which is told from male points of view. And the glossary is not as complete as it could be for those unfamiliar with Samoan terms. These flaws combine to make this a less-than-satisfying read.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 424pp
Publisher: Univ. of Hawaii Press