06 Jun / Pina by Titaua Peu, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman [in Booklist]
In Tahiti, Tenaho is one of those “quartiers nobody ever hears about,” but what happened to that family “with too many kids … was beyond all expectation.” Decades ago, Auguste and Ma married in love. Nine children later, screaming, slapping, and beating are commonplace. Alcohol fuels Auguste’s vilest offenses, rendering him comatose following a car accident. In his absence, 16-year-old Pauro falls in love, 15-year-old Rosa indiscriminately chases sex, 9-year-old Pina watches all – including their youngest Moïra.
A haunting poem – “A small body sways,” it begins – interrupts the narrative seven times, adding additional lines with each iteration until finally closing on “empty.” The relentless violence here perhaps warrants a warning, but the worst horrors, award-winning author Titaua Peu exposes in her English debut, belong to colonialism. That Peu, who is Mā’ohi (indigenous Tahitian), writes in French, the language of the island’s white conquerors, already manifests that occupation.
“Forging a voice in English that feels true to Titaua Peu’s rough-hewn, oral, humane prose,” writes translator Zuckerman, was certainly a multi-layered accomplishment of careful understanding and empathic respect. Bearing witness seems a minimal obligation for global readers.