Many of the works that we have read this semester have emphasized disorientation. Albert Wendt’s Black Rainbow took the reader through a confusing set of circumstances based on a lifestyle we could not identify with. Hau’ofa (in Tales of the Tikongs) jumped around an island’s worth of people, telling stories of the lives of natives who the reader has difficulty identifying with. In her work They Who Do Not Grieve, Sia Figiel does just the opposite. She chooses to orient her reader through the structure at every level of the book. Though her characters may be Samoan and therefore foreign to us, Figiel successfully portrays them such that we can see the validity of their experiences through the overall structure of her book as well as through individual sentences.
Figiel’s work is written in the same way that one lives life. In the same way that we use history and past experience as a reference point in current conversation, Figiel does not write chronologically. Furthermore, she writes as if she were inside a person’s head; she does not iterate what one might say out loud, but rather the train of thought that a person takes while engaged in conversation. For example, on page 142, as Alofa describes how her imagination would run wild when listening to Tausi, the reader actually experiences what she is describing because it happens as she is describing it. This form of writing is so poignantly orienting because it is a process that we go through on a daily basis. I tell a story, which makes me think of other things and that thing that happened last year and I wind up somewhere far from the content of the story I started telling. This process is where meaning is gained from experience.
By writing in this way, Figiel allows the reader to relate to the experiences of her characters and glean deeper meaning than would perhaps be possible if she recounted their experiences in a more traditional way. We can put on the lens of Malu or Alofa and gain some meaning from their lives that we can then use to shape our own. Figiel’s writing gains its power by following the same structure our lives and thoughts take every day so that we can seamlessly enter into her world and understand and apply it to our own.