Book Review: Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater – A Writer’s Early Life, by Albert Wendt

cv_out_of_the_vaipeAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

A short and concise history of the very early life of Albert Wendt, Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater gives the reader a great insight into boyhood split between Samoa and New Zealand.

The first chapter poses an interesting question – how reliable is an autobiography? Wendt acknowledges and defiantly states “Don’t trust me, be suspicious. I’m deliberately leaving out most of the story – it’s none of your business, and I don’t want to hurt the people I love.” I found this simply wonderful – for the author to say from the get-go, “it’s not the whole story and don’t expect it” is rare these days, and I took the rest of the book with a pinch of salt.

Covering his early life in Samoa and scholarship to New Zealand, Wendt pays homage to teachers and places that influenced his life and his writing. At New Plymouth Boys’ High School he published poems for the first time, and wrote and published more during his time at Ardmore Teachers’ College. The Wendt the world reads and enjoys would not exist without the New Zealand education he worked so hard to gain a scholarship for.

The suburb of Apia, Samoa where Albert Wendt spent his boyhood is something of a myth to Wendt now – “Is the Vaipe I’ve created in my stories, poetry and novels really the Vaipe that existed and exists in real life? Or is it real only in my books? Where does fact end and fiction begin?” I feel that this is probably true of many hometowns for people – while we’re not all writers, we sometimes morph and create a place different to remember than the one we actually grew up in. Wendt has immortalised his own upbringing through his writing, excerpts of which are scattered perfectly throughout the book.

On top of this, Wendt has delved in to deeply personal matters – a near death experience in the swimming pool, intense exam stress, severe home sickness in a foreign land very far from home, a mother’s death at a young age,and the somewhat reluctant acceptance of the Maualaivao title.

The uncertainty of the truth to this account didn’t diminish my enjoyment for Wendt’s story; I love a good life story, even if I don’t see the whole picture. There is so much heart thrown in to the pages, and every reader will take something away from such a well-written and informative tale.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Out of the Vaipe, the Deadwater – A Writer’s Early Life
by Albert Wendt
Published by BWB Texts
ISBN 9780908321223

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