South Pacific Survivor
In Samoa

a multicultural political thriller
by Kevin Daley

Questions for thought
  1. Genre – A “Multicultural thriller:”
    1. Some readers like to learn about culture, which can also round out characters and avoid stereotypes, and this novel has much action. However, do the cultural and historical elements put off thriller fans? Do they feel that it slows the pace? Or does it enhance the narrative? Do you think it is tradeoff, and if so, was it a worthwhile one?
  1. Maseia – The Samoan assassin:
    1. Is Maseia an over-the-top character? Does he represent the old perceptions of Samoans? Isn’t he also of the modern, Poly hip hop generation, which is largely non-violent?
    2. What caused his mental health issues? Someone from a western government takes advantage of him: does that symbolize colonialism?
    3. Is his ‘messiah complex” religious or cultural? Who started it? Who capitalized on it?
    4. Can a Samoan “warrior” mentality benefit their modern world, e.g., in the ideological battlefield, in national progress, and beyond?
  1. Ken – The CIA agent:
    1. Ken struggles emotionally with being a spy. How is this reflected in his actions?
    2. Does his broken heart from a past relationship and the promise of a new one in Pua affect his professional actions?     
    3. Does he come to accept his imperfections? Is that characteristic of America, despite modern apologies, e.g., the navy’s role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian queen, and generally America trying to “help” countries? People do not act consistently selfless, so should we expect the same from nations?
  1. Pua – The first agent of the Samoan Secret Service, she is Tautai’s granddaughter:
    1. Is a “Polynesian beauty” stereotyped any differently than other beauties of the world? Does Pua is knowingly use that to her advantage?
    2. Does she represent the future, the thoughtful, educated, modern woman? Does she have the additional challenge of reconciling her cultural duties?
    3. Regarding the physical beauty of the South Pacific and other islands, is there a tension between tourism and the concern for ecology and authentic culture?
    4. Despite rational reasons for preconceiving westerners, did she overcome those perceptions by relating to Ken? Did she think he finally “got it,” allowing them to come together? What did it take for Ken to open his mind verses Pua opening her mind?
  1. Bo – The agent assigned to help the Chinese ambassador:
    1. Bo works with Pua—given the attraction and admiration she felt toward her—but ultimately against Pua because Bo is a “good daughter” of China.

                                                               i.      Is Pua always a good daughter of Samoa?

                                                             ii.      Is she always a good granddaughter to Tautai?

                                                            iii.      Did her duties to country and to family conflict? If so, which did she choose and when?

                                                           iv.      Do Bo and Pua each suffer their own inter-generational conflict? 

  1. Tautai – The Paramount Chief, independent Samoa’s national leader.
    1. Tautai (means “navigator”) was obligated to respect the “dying wishes” of a past titleholder, the Paramount Chief who was Robert Louis Stevenson’s contemporary.
    2. The dying wish was to re-unite the Samoan archipelago, but what did Tautai think of it?  What did he choose, and why?
    3. Did written history versus oral history, or their sources, have anything to do with it?
  1. Robert Louis Stevenson – The famous Scottish writer involved in Samoan political affairs in the late 19th century, a critical time in Samoa’s history, and he was an active critic of colonialism and a strong supporter of Samoa.
    1. By documenting colonialism, was RLS complicit in it? What about author Jack London? Did Stevenson ultimately do a service to Samoa?
    2. Is searching for something “exotic” universally human, e.g., a pre-statehood Alaskan native would find an Austrian exotic?
  1. Tim – The CIA agent.
    1. In the end, do you wonder if Tim’s arrogance was feigned and his tradecraft superiority real? Was he an agent of New Zealand, which held his paternal identity? What is his internal identity? There is no indication his father is in any degree Pacific Islander, but none that he isn’t, either. Did you assume one way or the other?
    2. Are our identities less homogenous than commonly thought? Isn’t “history” much messier and much less accurate than reality, particularly where for millennia peoples have mixed much more than dividing lines indicate? Isn’t race a political construct, not a biological one? Do we have to look all the way back to east Africa, or south Africa later, to see and feel that we are all related in a meaningful way? Do you see identity as a personal or political choice? What would Noumea Simi or other Pacific writers opine?
  1. Creative License - Tautai is Independent Samoa’s “Paramount Chief”, a fictional title that resembles the Head of State, which is a real constitutional position.
    1. Was it necessary for the author to avoid using the real title “Head of State”?
    2. The character Tautai is wise but stubborn, and he struggles with historical resentments. Other modern titles in the novel were also fictionalized. Did the author have to do this to do justice to the characters, avoid doing an injustice in impliedly portraying the real figures, or both? In fiction, should a royal figure be treated differently than a president? Does the size of the nation have anything to do with your answer?
    3. Could only a Samoan rightfully portray a living high-titled Samoan? If so, can a Samoan fairly portray a similar non-Samoan?
    4. In 2010 there was controversy over Help, a novel by a white American, Kathryn Stockett. She portrayed African-American household help, complete with substandard English, and much was written from the POV of African Americans. Some critics, readers, and editorial writers/bloggers have objected to Ms. Stockett's right to write in such a fashion. Should we only “write what we know,” as the old adage goes? Or is empathy and research enough to cross the lines? Once upon a time, it was controversial for a writer to portray the inner life of someone opposite his or her gender. Now, matters of race and ethnic background can be highly sensitive, but should that trump literary license? If not, why? If so, when and why? Is this a matter of literary quality, identity politics, or both?
    5. “It’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand” is an African American phrase telling others they cannot empathize enough to truly understand their plight. Do you know of a parallel phrase in Samoa or elsewhere in the world? Do you agree to any degree?
    6. What does Samoan writer Albert Wendt mean by, “[i]n the final instance, our countries, our cultures, nations, planets are what we imagine them to be.”
  1. Writing and Politics
    1. Reunification: Are there Samoans who want the islands of Independent Samoa to re-unite with American Samoa?

                                                               i.      What would be the benefit? Who stands to lose or gain the most

                                                             ii.      The Cold War is over – does that affect your answer?

                                                            iii.      If an all-island referendum came down in favor of reunification, is it justified, given the violent U.S. suppression of the Mau Movement alone? Or self-determination policies alone?

                                                           iv.      The U.S. president’s fear of Islam in the novel worked to Tautai’s benefit.

1.      Is there a real basis for this?

2.      Would it replace the Cold War in working to benefit Pacific Islands?

3.      Is America’s political expression of fear—meaning spending enormous sums of money and political capital—disproportionate to the threat?

                                                             v.      By Tautai’s choice, does he effectively put the past behind them?

                                                           vi.      What is post-colonial versus neocolonial?

    1. Nineteenth century treaties: They played a part in partitioning Samoa, as referred to in the novel.

                                                               i.      Did the Treaty of Waitangi similarly take away Maori sovereignty?

                                                             ii.      How fast or clear must it be to be a moral wrong (as opposed to just part of life all over the world) and one that should be righted with reparations?

                                                            iii.      How was the legal system employed to effect results?

                                                           iv.      How do Hawaiian reparations movements compare? African Americans reparations movements?

    1. Paradise: Westerners sought “paradise” in the Pacific waters uncharted by them, to find “natural man,” uncorrupted by “civilization.”

                                                               i.      Was that a religious or biological inquiry?

                                                             ii.      If Europeans viewed themselves as “corrupt,” then why did they also believe themselves to be morally, politically, and racially superior to others?

                                                            iii.      Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard says “distance and travel are in my blood . . .” Isn’t human exploration natural and inevitable? Didn’t Polynesian destiny include the world beyond the Pacific? As a people and as individuals?

                                                           iv.      Reverse the “fatal impact” theory. What if Native Americans had diseases for which they developed antibodies, and Christopher Columbus and other European explorers were the ones who were wiped out by disease?

                                                             v.      Would there be an America? Would it have affected Pacific Island exploration and development?

    1. What is Love? The Pacific is one of the most overly romanticized areas on earth:

                                                               i.      Is there love in romances between islanders and non-islanders?

1.      Those romances that generate songs and stories?

2.      Those relationships that generate children and other life-long relationships?

3.      Would Samoan writer Sia Figiel differentiate the above? Would Paul Thereoux, after he received critique for his Happy Isles of Oceania?

                                                             ii.      Can you separate sexual preference and expression as a part of personal identity from cultural identity? What would writer Vilsoni Hereniko say? Teresia Teaiwa? Dan Taulapapa McMullin? Is love blind to differences or accepting of them?

                                                            iii.      Is foreign aid an expression of love at some level?

1.      China’s adding their ample aid to Samoa these recent decades? How is it used in the novel? Is it selfless at some level or in some part?

2.      Do political or personal use resources reflect love at some level?

                                                           iv.      Is love the missionaries who brought religion?

1.      To Pacific believers, if the acts were not of love at first, then was it ultimately so? After many sacrifices, were they better of paying this price for their faith? Is that even a fair question or does it sidestep moral issues?

2.      With the spread of Christianity in the Pacific, many died through fighting and disease. Was this the Western version of human sacrifices for a true God? What would Robert Louis Stevenson say? W. Somerset Maugham?

3.      Pacific peoples have indigenized Christianity, adapting it on their own terms. Is that what Samoan rappers and hip hop artists have done with music, even making it more “Christian” in the sense of less violence and vice than the average hop hop and rap song?

4.      Don’t Christians and Muslims have the same God? Like looking back to Africa for our common ancestry, if we look deeper into religions, don’t most have love as a common denominator, forming a basis for our common humanity?

5.      Ignoring cultural differences is not the same as embracing them: is love in employing Unity-in-Diversity, where ethnic conflict is coming from within, not from without? Is Fiji, with their unique cultural and linguistic milieu, overcoming recent challenges with this?

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