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Pina by Titaua Peu, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) Book

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Pina by Titaua Peu, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) Read Book Online And Download

Overview: Winner of the 2017 Eugène Dabit Prize

Winner of the 2019 French Voices Grand Prize

From award-winning Tahitian author Titaua Peu comes Pina, a devastating novel about a family torn apart by secrets and the legacy of colonialism and held together by nine-year-old Pina, a girl shouldering the immeasurable weight of her family’s traumas.

Far from Tahiti’s postcard-perfect beaches, Ma and Auguste and five of their nine children live a hand-to-mouth life in destitute, run-down Tenaho. Nine-year-old Pina, abused and neglected in equal measure, is the keeper of her family’s secrets, though the weight of this knowledge soon proves to be a burden no child could ever bear.

A victim of her father’s alcoholic rages and the object of her mother’s anger and indifference, Pina protects her younger sister, Moïra, as best she can. But,one day, a tragic accident upsets the precarious equilibrium of the family, setting them on a path to destruction. The fault lines of her family, descendants of Ma’ohi warriors who once fended off European settlers, begin to shift and crack open, laying bare how the past shapes and haunts the present: her brother Pauro falls in love with a Frenchman, her sister Rosa sinks into sexual exploitation as a futile means of escape, her eldest brother August Junior’s addictions and temper may lead him into ruin, and Hannah, the oldest daughter who had escaped to France, is beckoned back home, fearing the worst.

Elegantly translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Pina introduces a bold and profoundly humane anticolonial writer. It’s a gut punch of a novel that traces the history of a family, an island, and a people, reaching back to a time before colonial rule and stretching into an imagined, hopeful future of independence and autonomy, offering the promise of redemption.

Pina by Titaua Peu, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) Book Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
Pina by Titaua Peu, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) Book

Pina by Titaua Peu, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translator) Book Read Online Chapter One

The Father and the Mother

EVERY STORY BEGINS WITH A FAMILY STORY. Every family has its people bound by blood, no question of that. Some families, though, their fates go every which way, barely any detail in common between them. Which means mishaps, missed chances, misunderstandings. That’s just how things are. That’s life.

And this story begins with Ma and Auguste, the man who ended up her husband. They had plenty of kids, that part’s clear as day. First being Auguste Junior, who’s now twenty-five, then Pauro and Rosa, sixteen and fifteen each. And after them comes Pina, and last of all, Moïra, a wise little soul. But there’s also the “twins,” Xavier and Gilles. They’re a year apart, twenty-three and twenty-two, but exactly a year apart: they’re twins because they were born on the same day. Ma sent them off to live with her parents on Huahine, that island a full night’s boat trip from Tahiti. Every so often they come see their family, but never for long. Ma loves them plenty. They’re a handsome sight, the two of them, with hair as light as Rosa’s …

And after the twins there’s Catherine, who’s twenty-one. Some French couple adopted her and whisked her away when she was three days old. Out of sight, out of mind. So she’s got no part to play in this story, let alone this family.

Which makes eight children of Ma’s. Well, no: nine. It’s plenty easy to forget that last one, the second-oldest child, because nobody sees her. Not here in Tenaho. She’s as good as gone. Her name’s Hannah and she’s twenty-five years old just like Auguste Junior, only nine months between the two. She’s all the way in France, just like Catherine; she’s been there for years. They say she’s the head of a company, or just about. That’s what Ma always hollers when she’s fed up with all the kids, when she’s so mad she could just up and leave this unholy mess of a house. Pina doesn’t remember Hannah one bit. Rosa says she was very pretty. Pretty and elegant and refined and on and on … smart too. But then again, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Rosa’s telling the truth.

Hannah went off to a boarding school in her teens, and the minute she was done with the bac, she went off to France. She was going to get some degree there, and that was the last anyone had heard from her.

Which makes Pina number eight. Her parents must have been especially keen on having an eighth kid, seeing as she came along a good seven years after Rosa was born. Almost too long. The day she had Pina, Ma was turning thirty-seven. Getting old, almost dangerously old. They’d been so keen because Rosa wasn’t really little anymore. By the time kids get to be six or seven years, they’re too old for hugs. They tried over and over, Ma went through three miscarriages, before number eight came along. Too many times she’d been up the whole night worrying. The first thing Ma had blamed was her husband’s sperm. He’d been a wily old goat, shilly-shallying for so long that he’d brought that black mark on himself: impotent. It was a label she hadn’t gotten out of her head ever since one of her friends had whispered it before declaring it a sin to believe things like that. Best for Ma to go see someone. Not a normal doctor who knew nothing about matters of that sort. No, Ma needed to see one of their people, a healer, a good one who’d know what had happened and how to put it all right.

One morning, Ma set off to meet an old woman in Paea whose house was as run-down and decrepit as she was. That day, when Ma went and stood at the yawning hole where the door was supposed to be, shivers ran up and down her back. Real shivers, not like some woman showing off or trying to get sympathy. No, that day, she was more scared than she’d ever been in her whole life. She wasn’t scared of someone, she was scared of something that didn’t exist, something she felt in her gut, troubling her, digging its claws deep. Something that had no explanation. Right then, she’d have given anything to not have come here. Precious few people went all the way south from Pirae to Paea, and even fewer by truck at the crack of dawn. She had reasons heaven knew nothing of. When the old woman suddenly showed herself, Ma would have shrunk down as small as possible if she were able. She couldn’t see a thing at first, it was that dark, but there was a presence, an awful smell that was piss, half rotting dog, half jasmine perfume. Ma was about to throw up and bolt home when the old woman said something like “I know why you have come” before letting out a cackle through all her missing teeth. It was curiosity, no, pride actually—Ma was nothing if not proud—that set Ma’s foot back on the step. She stayed stock-still, waiting for the next thing out of the old woman’s mouth. And so Ma learned that her belly was dirty. Filthy. Because she’d had kid after kid after kid, because she hadn’t drunk any brew after a single one of them, that belly of hers, where babies and earth grew, was rotting from the inside out. And then the old woman said there was a deeper, darker problem at the root of it: some evil thought, some hex someone had put on her. Ma’s shivers only got worse, running from her lower back slowly all the way up to her neck. Words like that, visions like that weren’t just old wives’ tales.

The minute she was back home, Ma started gulping down a bitter, greenish potion. It took a good three days for it to do its work. Three days of going to the bathroom and swearing up and down that anything this foul had to make something happen. The old woman had told Ma, that day, right before she left, that the child who would come that year would be a boy and that he would be the handsomest of all. Ma couldn’t be sure whether or not to believe her, but the idea that a new boy would show up put a smile on her face and a glimmer of hope in her mind. A boy—how could she not love a boy? And so, when at long last Pina came into the world, it was hate at first sight.

It all happened on Ma’s birthday. The morning had been off to a nice start, a special morning. She’d never seen the house abuzz like this. They were going all out for Ma tonight. Birthdays didn’t happen every day, and Ma’s husband had just been paid his leaving wages. Tomorrow he’d have to scrounge around for new work, but today they’d live like kings. Auguste, Pauro, and even Rosa had scrubbed the place clean, set up chairs for them to get some sun, and Ma was just taking in the sight of her family, not thinking for once about her fingers swelled up or her belly sticking all the way out. The tiny radio was spitting out songs that any other time Ma couldn’t have stood one bit. The Bee Gees were carrying on about fever, and the disco rhythm had Ma tapping her toes, rocking her body back and forth.

It had been ages since she’d smiled, hadn’t it? Ever since the man who’d become her husband had laid on the charm for her, years and years ago, a good twenty years ago. When Ma was seventeen, she’d been pretty, the prettiest one of all in tiny Huahine. She didn’t have a care in the world back then, all her dreams had been about simple old things. Finding a husband, one who wasn’t from her island, so she could move to the big city, to Tahiti. She heard about it all the time. Wild nights at Quinn’s, being happy and drunk and free. She’d been told water was flowing inside houses nowadays, coming out of pipes that could be turned on and off whenever you liked. That was magic, and maybe that could be her life. When Ma was seventeen, that was what her dreams were about, and every few days she made her way from her village to the Huahine harbor, where schooners came and moored, their bellies bursting with Tahitian dreams and smells. It was at that harbor that she met Auguste, the man who’d give her all these children.

“Back then …” The guys were fond of saying that: “Back then, I did this, he did that …” and in their eyes there was the gleam of something delicate and tender, something beautiful and sad. They’d say “back then,” as if that could make up for everything …

When they met, Auguste was a handsome, handsome fellow. Jet-black hair that came down past his eyes and made him look something … like he was outside time. He looked every bit proud of the body he had at eighteen. Auguste was a hungry sort. He was unloading all manner of goods and then loading copra by the ton. Ma was peeking at him behind his back, and he already knew what he wanted was her, to lose himself in her. He’d already gotten a taste of a woman’s body, nice and warm, a body that forgot itself, gave in. He’d already done the deed with his cousin, and they’d never said a word about it again ever. One afternoon, after the boat had been maneuvered in and moored, Auguste had jumped down onto the quay and told Ma that he wanted her. The next thing, he was talking marriage. Not two weeks since they’d first laid eyes on one another, Ma was headed off with him, and all Ma’s mother had to say about it was that she’d never be happy in Tahiti, not with Auguste.

She was turning thirty-seven, which wasn’t all that old. Her eyes were on Rosa who’d slipped on a flower-print pāreu and was swaying that small butt of hers to the pounding beat of a fifties tāmūrē. Ma had let out a guffaw at her daughter’s hips moving this way and that. A guffaw that had her bent over laughing when all of a sudden she felt her baby kick hard, so hard it hurt. The kicks were at the bottom of her stomach, quick sharp ones. Ma hollered at Auguste and then it was all shrieks because she felt water running down her legs. The only thing to do was to get up, grab what they needed, and go to the hospital straightaway. The baby was only seven months along and Ma was sure she would die. Not a single one of her other pregnancies had ever given her so much pain. This thing thrashing around in her belly couldn’t be a baby. It had to be a monster. She recollected the old woman’s words. A boy, the handsomest of all, and she passed out.

When she finally came back to, she felt something like a gash down her stomach. Both sides held together by an enormous bandage, and Auguste saying that she’d been cut open. Ma was crying bloody murder and her child was brought in. A tiny, pitch-black baby. When the nurse announced that it was a pretty little girlie, Ma could have hit the ceiling. She knew not to holler the way she always did or it would have torn her right apart. She narrowed her eyes at the bundle of blankets and saw an ugly dark thing with tightly coiled hair. A boy? “The handsomest of all”? No. A girl who wasn’t one bit pretty, who kept crying nonstop, even after she’d suckled … Ma was as angry at the old woman from Paea as if she were God up in heaven and could have given her a boy or a girl upon request. For weeks, Ma didn’t feel a shred of warmth for the baby. She could go and cry in her filthy, soaking diapers—and so she did.

It was years before Pina was told about all that. About the day Ma turned thirty-seven, about the rage she flew into. If she’d had any say in the matter, Pina would have chosen not to know about any of it, but people were monsters: family or not, they didn’t worry themselves about the feelings of others, not even children. And when the facts only got laughter and leering out of all of them, she was left with sadness and nights that felt downright lonely … So Pina dreamed up a world she’d survive in, dreamed up voices she could listen to, so as not to have to think about the world she was in.

Fact is, Pina’s name actually isn’t Pina. Ma and Auguste had been expecting a boy, and they’d picked out first names as such. When they saw the tiny little baby was a girl, they’d been caught unawares. So they saddled her with the name of Ma’s aunt: Aeata. A Tahitian name and a beautiful one at that, an old one that’d fallen out of use and been forgotten. Some two years later, when the doctor told Pina’s family that her left eardrum was misshapen and she might get some tari’a pinau, trouble with her ear, Rosa started calling her little sister Pinau. And after a while, it stuck: the only name anyone knew her by was Pina.

Most people don’t have the faintest clue that at four or five years old children’s heads are full to brimming with war dances and dreams of revenge and aspirations of fame. Even when she was little Pina was quick to think about death, especially for those who hurt her. Rosa, say. She often dreamed about Rosa getting hit by a huge truck. Rosa wouldn’t die right away. Pina would finish her off with just a look, without even a word … She knew how to be cruel. She was no Cinderella. Or maybe she was, a little, when she was working her fingers to the bone, just about breaking her back under massive, old wooden furniture. There wasn’t anything fairy-tale about her. This girl knew how to hate with all her being, all her little body. She had seen contempt in other people’s eyes enough to know the way it tasted. Cruel thoughts were something she could catch, and that horrible itch to hurt people too.

Night had fallen. The neighborhood was asleep. Ma had to be snoring. Pina’s belly was red, and the boiling water had raised huge, trembling, violent blotches all over her skin. She lay on her side in the bed, looking up through the window at the faint sky with no stars. She still hurt. It didn’t have to be like this, she thought. Why had she grabbed the milk pan, why did she care so much about doing the right thing, why had she gotten punished twice over—the pain of that pitiless water, the hurt of her mother’s heartless slap? She was always the one these things happened to. As if it wasn’t enough that she already got laughed at every day.

When Pina stayed with her aunt all the way out in the district for a few days, she learned about going to church, about the Bible. She came to know about the Lord. He was merciful but he knew how to punish when he had to. Did she, ugly Pina, deserve God’s anger? She must … everyone gets what they deserve. Ma always said so.

Her aunt out there was named Poe. Poe was Ma’s sister and the oldest girl in a family of twenty children. Nobody knew how old Poe was, if years could be added up for her the way they were for everyone else. To Pina, she had only ever had graying temples and scraggly hair that she used a small, long-toothed comb on. Time and again Pina felt like she’d have been better off living with Poe, but she had as many children as there were at Sunday school. Pina wanted a proper existence, at least now and then, to not be just another kid who got fed by people who couldn’t give her any more attention than that. All the same, going out to the backcountry was always better. Better than living there, in a tiny house that always smelled like mold and dirty diapers. Better than living here in a hovel made of wooden planks and sheet metal taken apart and put back together differently after every cyclone. Pina’s shame was red-hot and if she could have destroyed the entire earth, she would have.

Once it was dark, the night’s quiet and the river’s sweet song steered her into those dreams she always had, even with her eyes open. Pictures, clear ones, pictures of people and places she’d never seen but already loved more than anything. A man, a woman, then her, only her, and a very big garden. In the middle of this garden, a house, a real one, big and white with a veranda where beautiful macramé plant holders would be swinging and where bright-green ferns would be swaying while a loving breeze whispered. Sweet sights, visions of a paradise that was only in the brochures that people sometimes tried to sell her. Pictures right out of the books that two blond men on bikes showed her mother every week and that she never had the money for. Pretty pictures that Pina kept in the back of her mind, that more often than not were erased, shoved aside, by other pictures, real ones, pictures she had actually lived. Like the one of a class headed for the cafeteria. Smiling, singing children two by two in a long line. Girls holding girls’ hands, boys holding other boys’ hands. And the line’s going at a nice easy pace, and the schoolteacher’s holding the hand of a little girl with light hair that’s almost blonde. The schoolteacher smiles, and her teeth are so white they almost ding in the sunlight. The line is so pretty and touching. And at its end is a very dark-skinned girl who’s straggling and feeling all alone. Slow on purpose because she wants to be forgotten, wants the other children to not keep looking back at her like that. Every day it’s the same. If only she didn’t have to eat at the cafeteria, didn’t have to be behind them all. But children with no money can’t eat at home. The little girl holding the teacher’s hand cried when she realized that there was nobody else. That she’d have to hold the black girl’s hand. The schoolteacher doesn’t like to see little blonde girls crying …

Pina’s welts stung so much, and she ran her outstretched fingers across her skin, making their way ever so gently between red blotches. That soothed her nice and good, and she shut her eyes. On her belly, a speck of warmth had just landed, drawing out small moans that could barely be heard. She let her fingers go and glide over those walloped spots; she let her fingers do the healing. She’d never felt this before, had no words for it, and it was growing. Warmth spreading all across her stomach, coming from down below. Her fingers didn’t belong to her anymore, they were digging into every corner deep inside her body. Between her legs, she found a spot all but telling her to go fast, give it everything she could, all the strength she had. Her fingers didn’t belong to her. Pina couldn’t explain it, she just let it happen. She saw the pretty pictures she’d dreamed up. Tall, handsome man, smaller woman who was so elegant. She let a thousand little things whisper and a shiver as big as the ocean ran through her, from head to toe, and died out in a spasm that had her all tensed up and then freed. She clenched her legs tight as well as the two hands caught between them. She opened her eyes again, she wouldn’t say a word to anyone about this. She’d never so much as whisper this love she’d found, that she’d managed to make all by herself. It was her secret and she already liked it. She thought of her father and suddenly she got it. She’d never tell him, all she wondered was why he didn’t do that by himself, away from anyone’s eyes, away from her own eyes. Some things ought never, ever to be shared. She suddenly felt ashamed, of him, of herself, but she didn’t know how she’d ever give up this happy feeling that was brand-new, that was hers and hers alone.

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