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Stories from the French Pacific: in English

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by Sigrid Parker (subscribe)
Travel writer, with teenage kids, who treats Brisbane as a holiday destination...every weekend!
Published September 19th 2012
Life in the Pacifics Islands for under $30
Dreaming of going to the Pacific Islands? French-speakingTahiti or New Caledonia? Water lapping at your sandy toes. Want to get to know the locals too? Well you can do all this for around $30 – and keep on going back.

There is more to French Pacific writing than romance and swaying palm trees

I am kicking back listening to the melodic French accents around me and talk of life in the Pacific Islands. Nicolas Kurtovitch from Noumea is a geographer by training, loves landscapes and knows Queensland well having worked on a mine near Emerald in 1975. Alongside him Chantal Spitz from Tahiti is talking about grassroots life in her country. And Flora Devatine, with her gentle air and cheeky smile, battles on in English, her third language after Tahitian and French.

French Pacific wrtiers and Australia
Our French-speaking eastern neighbours are so close

Unfortunately the backdrop was not swaying palms and idyllic sunsets. This was the scene at the 2012 Writers' Festival in Brisbane and the case being put forward was that, since we all share this corner of the world, we should be sharing our literature with each other. Expand our reading horizons. Unfortunately, until recently this has not really been happening.

We tend to forget, with books at least, that it is not just English-speaking people who live in the southern pacific. French explorers were busy claiming territories in this area in the 1700s too. So there are authors producing fiction, poems and plays from the French pacific islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and of course Polynesia including Tahiti with their own slant on life.

We have so much in common - not least our colonial histories, indigenous populations and questions of identity. As more books are translated into English we now have the chance to share in other stories from our region and create links that historically the French and English could never have done.

Kanak Women
Indigenous Kanak women of New Caledonia

So instead of looking to the northern hemisphere for our literature here are some authors from our neighbours to the east. But be warned, it is less about the idyllic bikini-clad lifestyle that is touted on tourism posters. This is about real people… their lives…their issues…their emotions…with a Pacific island backdrop.

So while I can't actually get sand between my toes from reading a book, at least I can keep on exploring as an armchair traveller. For the cost of a paperback, I can get back to these islands as often as I want and get a feel for the real, true stories of these places as told by the locals.

Authors to check out:
Chantal Spitz (Tahiti) Island of Shattered Dreams available in English, poet and writer Nicolas Kurtovitch (New Caledonia), Claudine Jacques (New Caledonia), Titaua Peu (Tahiti), Déwé Gorodé (New Caledonia), and poet Flora Devatine (Tahiti) amongst others.
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Why? Expand your reading horizon
When: Whenever the mood to meet other people grabs you
Where: Local library or favourite bookshop
Cost: Free if borrowing. Under $30 to buy.
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