Afakasi Woman by Lani Wendt Young – Books Alive (New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults)

Afakasi Woman is short-listed for the Young Adult Fiction Award in this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Lani Wendt Young is a Samoan/Māori writer, editor, and journalist. Her Young Adult fantasy series Telesā blends romance with mythology and stories from the Pacific Islands. Her latest book for Young Adults is a collection of short stories which are brimming with emotion and explore womanhood and cultural experiences in Samoa.

Afakasi is the Samoan transliteration for half-caste meaning half Samoan and half of something else. I don’t know why, but in the Samoan culture your lightness of skin is often aligned with your degree of beauty. Call it colonialism or whatever, but that’s how it is and how it has been for a long time. Being of Samoan and Chinese descent (where both my parents are actually more Samoan than anything else), and having a fairer complexion it is often assumed that me and my siblings are afakasi. And that, in terms of the formation of our identity is problematic. Constantly battling the dichotomy of being too Samoan looking to be Palagi (European) and too Palagi looking to be Samoan.

Reading Lani Wendt-Young’s collection of sixteen short stories about the experience of a young afakasi woman in Samoa was both confronting and heart-warming.  The collection is so engaging – my eyes slurped every word off the page and when I was done I just wanted more!  There are stories in here that will bring you both tears of laughter and utter sadness at the same time. They are very short but certainly pack an emotional punch. Her stories very cleverly speak from the perspective of an afakasi woman but highlight a universality in the experience of all women forging their identity as an individual in a Pacific society that is so communal. This is a book for all young women in that awful stage of transition from childhood to adulthood. This is a book for those that want to know more about Samoan culture and experience.

After reading Afakasi Woman repeatedly and reflecting back on Lani’s Telesā series I could also see that just as the young lady in this book comes into her own, so does Lani as a writer. The struggle to even get this into mainstream publishing was so worth it and it is fantastic to see this recognised as a finalist in the Young Adult Fiction Category  of the NZ Book Awards!

Thank you Lani for capturing both the beauty of life in Samoa and our culture and the unspoken beasts that lurk in the dark corners of our society. Thank you Lani for speaking for the young woman that I once was, and the older woman I am now. Please keep sharing our experience to the world!

Fa’afetai lava le tauivi malosi mo le lumana’i o tatou fanau i ou tala, Lani.

Ia manuia uma ou taumafaiga,

Afakasi Woman

Books Alive

To celebrate the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, schools and libraries interview finalists in a series of special events called Books Alive. This year the events took place in typical pandemic fashion - over Zoom!

Visit our Books Alive page for Virtual Storytimes and Events.

If you want to hear more about Afakasi Woman and Lani Wendt Young, check out the interview with Lani Young Wendt in Samoa and Pasifika students at Marlborough Girls. It will be released on Thursday 6 August!

Lani Young Wendt joins from Samoa to talk about the story behind her book, Afakasi Women and to answer questions sent to her from Pasifika students at Marlborough Girls. Hear the students discuss the book, what they enjoyed and how they connected with the story with their school librarian.