THE BANYAN by Wendt Albert


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A richly empathic, atmospherically authentic, message-heavy dynasty novel by a native of Samoa --who sees his country's recent cultural crises through the perceptions of four generations. The Alga Toasa, senior of the village of Sapepe, knows that he has become ""obsolete."" The old ways, the old gods, are being pushed aside in the wake of the guns, barbed wire, and Christian missionaries of the papalagi (here translated politely as ""those of European stock""). Sadly, too, Toasa knows that young Tauilopepe, son of an old friend, doesn't revere the past: he ""would be responsible for the destruction of the old world."" And indeed, vainly struggling with his meager plantation, Tauilo believes that the papalagi way makes sense; he finally hits his stride, with some small trickery--and inspiration from the mighty words which form the core of his sermon as a church deacon. (""God, Money and Success."") But if Tauilo, within the eye of progress, is unbeatable, there is also Tauilo's son Pepe--who tells his own life's story as he lies dying in a hospital: a life in rebellion against his father, against the ""modern"" ways which have weakened the Samoan people, robbing them of their dignity, land, and ancient self-government. And, after Pepe's bleak, stagey, existentialist demise, his son Lalolagi becomes, through the now-wealthy Tauilo's tutelage and a New Zealand education, an ""imitation papalagi."" Lalolagi's rival: Galupo, who claims to be Tauilo's son--and indeed becomes Tauilo's right-hand man. But finally, at Tauilo's deathbed, after the old man has disinherited Lalolagi, Galupo discloses his mission: ""In me the Sapepe fountainhead will come to life again""; he epitomizes, it seems, the new Samoan, ""product of the history and whole movement propelling our country toward an unknown future."" Weighed down by stiff fictionalization and politically dense substance, this is not--by a long shot--for the Thorn Birds contingent. But, with convincing speech-rhythms and village hierarchies, it's a thickly informative if not richly involving saga--especially revealing for those who last saw Samoa (not American Samoa, by the way, but the Western, independent section) in the company of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday