Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Samoan Chief by Fay G. Calkins

My Samoan Chief by Fay G. Calkins, 1962.

Chapter one begins:
"I squinted through my glasses, clutched my zipper notebook, and hoped I would pass as an egghead. The dome of the Library of Congress looked very awesome from underneath as I tiptoed around the great circular call desk and back through the card catalogues..."
Wait a minute, a book about the South Pacific that starts off in a library? I don't even need to think twice, here is my $3 and I will be on my way, thank you very much.

It is driving me nuts that I can't recall what bookstore I bought this in but I had it for a few months waiting for the right time to read it. I knew it would be good. Finally it went on vacation with me to Las Vegas and Florida and was a great travel book.

Here at the Bibliotiki, we do have a focus on South Pacific Literature written by women, well because I am a woman.  As I look at my bookshelves I have 1 cube that has books by women and 7 that are by men. So I am always on the hunt for something good by the ladies and this did not disappoint.

The book starts off with Fay working on her doctoral dissertation in the Library of Congress where she is assigned a student desk. She has mysterious neighbors who leave things like chicken bones in the wastebasket and ukuleles on the desk. She finally met her neighbor, who was Vaiao John Ala'ilima from the island of Samoa.

The book continues with tales of them dating. In 1952, they married and then they move to Samoa so Vai, who was one of the first graduates from Samoa, could help his country out.

I hate to use the word charming but boy this book is. Stories about her adjusting to the Samoa way, trying to build a home and raise children, were just charming but not in an annoying way.

The book also includes some pen and ink illustrations by Vasiliu but no mention of who that is.

One of my favorite illustrations is for a story about how Fay came up with an idea to rig a pulley across a chasm to better help the workers on the plantation. But it wasn't set up correctly and a young boy got stuck half way across and was too terrified to try and get out.

I wish the book had more personal anecdotes but I do come from a different time (ruined by reality tv) were back then that wasn't as common.

After reading the book, I googled Fay and found a sweet website set up in her memory. It has more about her biography, which is pretty amazing. It also includes some family history ( 7 kids!). And mentions her other works, I did not know she wrote a biography about Aggie Grey (who is mentioned in this book) which I will have to locate.

I recommend this book to all who are interested in the South Pacific, it made me want to read more about Samoa (R.L. Stevenson, I'm looking at you). Absolutely charming, damn I said it again!