QUEEN EMMA OF THE SOUTH SEAS by Geoffrey Dutton

QUEEN EMMA OF THE SOUTH SEAS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dutton has studied, absorbed, and toyed with the interesting life of Samoan-American entrepreneur Emma Eliza Coe (1850-1913). He has parceled her career out into 40 roughly chronological monologues from over a dozen narrators--Emma herself, her US Commercial Agent father, her beloved youngest sister, husbands, lovers, missionaries. And he has done all this in exotic detail and tasteful, evocative, lively prose. Unfortunately, that's not quite enough to make a novel. Gorgeously sensual Emma's smooth ascent is hopelessly linear, devoid of shape, depth, or conflict (despite feminist undercurrents and the question of ""which half of her ruled, American or Polynesian""). She is expelled from school in Australia after doing her erotic dance wearing only lava-lava (we're repeatedly reminded that Samoans are joyously free of sexual guilt); she finishes her finishing in San Francisco; she returns to her Samoa home and takes up with sailors, traders, and diplomats, marrying some (she teaches husband-partner Tom Farrell about sexual equality in bed) and building up a South Seas trading empire based in German New Guinea. Eventually she gets old, retires, and dies mysteriously in Monte Carlo. Readers who can manage without true plot or pace will be rewarded with considerable slices of local color and Samoan colonial history--a rather painless, if circuitous and purpley-passioned way, to cover a relatively little-known area. But, fictionally speaking, no more than an exotic passing parade.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1978
Publisher: St. Martin's