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This review is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

PUTTING THE VA IN VALUE PAUL SHARRAD, Albert Wendt and Pacific Literature: Circling the Void (Manchester University Press) £40

Born in Apia, Western Samoa, in 1939, Albert Wendt is regarded by many as one of Oceania's most prominent writers. And prominent he most certainly is, in the sense of being conspicuous. Novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright, anthologist, essayist, educator and one-time selector of the Samoan rugby team, Wendt is 'prolific and influential' and would be a very great writer indeed if greatness were a matter of these things only. Unfortunately, questions of literary worth, of whether a writer is any good, have a habit of intruding themselves, and to these Paul Sharrad, in his turgid study Albert Wendt and Pacific Literature: Circling the Void, is profoundly deaf. The Void or (in Samoan) Va at the heart of this book is the question of value.

As an introduction to Wendt's key themes the book is not entirely without merit. Sharrad explains his subtitle thus: 'I interpret it as both [Wendt's] varying but continuous representation of the traditional Polynesian and modern existentialist concepts of a silent vacancy at the heart of the cosmos, and as his search for some structure of meaning that will encircle/fence-off such a potential obliteration of human being.' This 'obliteration of human being' has, for Wendt, a political aspect which has to do with the various ways Samoa's sense of national identity has been thrown into crisis by the experience of colonialism. The attempt to 'think' Samoan identity is thus at the heart of Wendt's aesthetic, and Sharrad is roughly right, ...


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