Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part two: Polynesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.

The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Polynesia. If you’re interested, you can check out the post here about authors from Melanesia and Micronesia.

As you can see from the map, Polynesia is a huge area with many different nations, from Hawai’i to New Zealand. Each island and area is distinct, with their own rich cultural and historical understanding of the world.

In this list of book recommendations, I’ve tried to include some diversity, both regional and historical. But five books can only show so many perspectives. Consider this a jumping off point to learn about the region.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Braden Jarvis on Unsplash

Five books from Polynesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Polynesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)
  2. Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)
  3. Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)
  4. Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)
  5. Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)

by Queen Lili’uokalani
Note: the local spelling of Hawai’i has an okina (an apostrophe is used here) between the two i’s to reflect the proper pronounciation, but when searching for details on this book you may need to use the anglicized spelling (Hawaii).

  • Year Published: 1898
  • Author’s Country:
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, autobiography, history, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • The Queen’s account of her time as the reigning monarch, how pro-American forces overthrew her government, and the aftermath of the American intervention.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen is an account of those difficult years at the end of the nineteenth century, when native Hawaiian historian David Malo’s 1837 prophecy concerning “the small ones” being “gobbled up” came true for the Hawaiian Islands.

When this book was first published in 1898, it was an international plea for justice. Just as Admiral Thomas had restored Hawaiian sovereignty in 1843 following an illegal action by Lord Paulet, Queen Lili’uokalani prayed that the American nation would similarly reestablish the Hawaiian throne. Queen Lili’uokalani died on November 11, 1917, her poignant plea for justice unanswered.


Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)

by Chantal T. Spitz, translated from the French by Jean Anderson

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Author’s Country:
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First novel by an indigenous French Polynesian writer

Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.


Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)

by Sia Figiel

  • Year Published: 1997
  • Author’s Country:
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, poetry, informative, slow-paced
  • First novel published by a Samoan woman in the USA
  • Won the 1997 Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

A bestseller in New Zealand and winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Prize, Sia Figiel’s debut marks the first time a novel by a Samoan woman has been published in the United States.

Figiel uses the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi to talk back to Western anthropological studies on Samoan women and culture. Told in a series of linked episodes, this powerful and highly original narrative follows thirteen-year-old Alofa Filiga as she navigates the mores and restrictions of her village and comes to terms with her own search for identity.


Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)

by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

  • Year Published: 2004
  • Author’s Country:
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

In Tahiti, it’s a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all — or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.


Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Across the Oceanic region, editors are both from New Zealand
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, short stories, challenging, reflective, medium-paced

A stunning collection of Oceanic stories for the 21st century.

Stones move, whale bones rise out of the ground like cities, a man figures out how to raise seven daughters alone. Sometimes gods speak or we find ourselves in a not-too-distant future. Here are the glorious, painful, sharp and funny 21st century stories of Maori and Pasifika writers from all over the world. Vibrant, provocative and aesthetically exciting, these stories expand our sense of what is possible in Indigenous Oceanic writing.

Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti present the very best new and uncollected stories and novel excerpts, creating a talanoa, a conversation, where the stories do the talking. And because our commonalities are more stimulating than our differences, the anthology also includes guest work from an Aboriginal Australian writer, and several visual artists whose work speaks to similar kaupapa.

Join us as we deconstruct old theoretical maps and allow these fresh Black Marks on the White Page to expand our perception of the Pacific world.


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.