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Friday, March 05, 2021

Samoa: Freelove, by Sia Figiel

Despite the glowing blurbs on the back of this book, it is likely to prove highly controversial. It is the story of a relationship between Ioage and Inosia (Sia). Sia narrates this story (apart from a small section at the back which is in the form of letters between the two), and she makes it clear very early on that their relationship is forbidden. But the reasons for this are different in traditional Samoan culture and Western culture. In the Samoan view, Ioage is her brother, and therefore their relationship is incestuous. In fact, he is the son of the village chief and this is what makes him her brother - it appears that all boys in the village are considered brothers to the village girls, and they must go outside the village to marry. This makes a good deal of sense to prevent inbreeding. However, although mentioned, it is somewhat glossed over that Ioage is also Sia's teacher. She is seventeen and a half, and presented as a very mature young woman, who knows her own mind, and takes a very active part in developing their relationship. I would find it very troubling to give this book to a teenage daughter, as no matter how mature a seventeen year old might think they are, the notion that a relationship with a teacher is acceptable (and beautiful and sensuous, not to mention a meeting of two very intelligent minds, as it is presented here), is a deeply problematic one. I find it strange that this does not seem to be mentioned in reviews. That aside, the book is well written - lyrical and sensuous. There is a lot of sex in the book. And also a lot of explaining. Ioage's natural role as a teacher makes the explanations of traditional Samoan culture seem natural, coming from him, and not an unwiedly chunk of exposition inserted into the narrative. Really, not very much happens apart from a passionate relationship, most of which happens in one day. One aspect I found a bit unrealistic was that when Sia leaves and goes to the United States to study, the fac that she is unmarried, pregnant, and deeply missing her lover does not seem to impact on her studies at all, in which she succeeds brilliantly. So - a number of caveats, but probably worth reading for the insight it casts on Samoan culture. Freelove was published by Little Island Press in 2018.

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