The Charm Buyers
describes extraordinary beauty and turbulent change: Tahiti during the last years of French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1990s.
Marc Antoine Chen, the troubled heir of black pearl cultivators, narrates his journey through a labyrinth of elusive truths. As a child, Marc lives in a dreamlike world with his great-grandmother A-tai and her stories of a semi-nomadic Hakka culture that no longer exists. The Hakka, originally brought from China to Tahiti to work in cotton in the nineteenth century, settled in communities throughout the South Pacific.
On the verge of adulthood, Marc falls in love with the calm and confident Marie-Laure Li, but when she leaves to study in France, Marc drifts, becoming the lover of the enigmatic painter Aurore du Chatelet. Years later, Marie-Laure returns, suffering from a debilitating malady—one of many illnesses surfacing in the wake of nuclear testing—and Marc is offered a strange, magical proposal in exchange for the life of his once beloved.
A supernatural, shamanic reality exists together with the traditions of the Hakka, set against the background of the French colonial past and the Ma‘ohi struggle for independence. The Charm Buyers presents a world in transition and its people—black pearl cultivators, artists, taro farmers, politicians, smugglers, and shamans.
"Written against the background of France’s nuclear testing on Mururoa (1966–1996), this tale of Hakka Chinese and mixed-heritage individuals in Tahiti struggling to maintain privileged lifestyles as well as their mutual obligations is both captivating and illuminates a community of which little has been written. What makes the novel most worthwhile is its examination of a tightly knit community’s unraveling, caused partly by the obsessions of its restless characters, and partly a result of events beyond their control." —Vilsoni Hereniko, professor, playwright, and filmmaker, University of Hawai'i
"Lillian Howan has successfully penned the first real multicultural novel about French Polynesia. The Charm Buyers is a gorgeous debut—a story about love, loss, filial obligations, and the convoluted racial threads that bind the magical isles of Tahiti. This tender, enchanting romance held me captive for many evenings." —Andrew X. Pham, author of The Eaces of Heaven and Catfish and Mandala
"Sensuous, moody, understated, The Charm Buyers is a book so gorgeous that it begs to be read not only for its story, but also to experience the beauty of its language. I found myself seduced into a dream of life among upper class Hakka society in Tahiti, a gothic world of complicated and secret loves, expensive cars, lost fortunes, decaying homes, and the power of old magic." —Shawna Yang Ryan, author of Green Island and Water Ghosts
"The Charm Buyers is a hypnotic literary banquet, dark, delicious, tragic, yet rich with humor. Lillian Howan’s book is a bewitching visit to Tahiti Noir, the world behind the resorts, the islands visitors rarely see. I left this book dazzled and hungry for more." —Julia Whitty, author of Deep Blue Home, The Fragile edge, and A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga
"The Charm Buyers isn’t just a book, it’s a world—full of the complexity and beauty of life, masterfully created. Reading this felt like diving into a reality both eerily familiar and yet artistically brand new. Lillian Howan’s talent is rare, refreshing, and casts a spell from page one." —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day and Pym
Author: Howan, Lillian;
is an attorney and writer whose parents immigratedto the United States from Tahiti and Raiatea. She spent her earlychildhood in Tahiti and later graduated from the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the editor of WakakoYamauchi’s collection, Rosebud and Other Stories
(University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011). Her writings have been published in the Asian American Literary Review
, Café Irreal
, New England Review
, and Under Western Eyes
, an anthology edited by Garrett Hongo.