Poinciana: A must-read for anyone interested in New Caledonia

Literally one week before I left Paris, I bumped into someone in the hall at work. Did I know “Poinciana“, he asked. He had just learned I was relocating to New Caledonia. No, I had not heard of Poinciana, the book (also known as the flame tree or flamboyant), but keen as I am to read anything on or about New Caledonia, I asked him to send me the details. Finding it hard to order on line and have it sent to New Caledonia, I contacted the author through her book page.

Jane Turner Goldsmith was wonderfully accommodating. She went right out and posted a copy to me, leaving the payment details for shortly thereafter. I love that we can reach out and speak with artists and creatives today. The world feels a smaller, closer place.

So Poinciana was waiting for me when I arrived. A fascinating novel with two parallel story lines, I read Poinciana every day, whenever and wherever I could.

The first story is the tale of  a young woman’s  search to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance in New Caledonia. A bi-cultural woman who belongs nowhere and everywhere at once, I felt for Catherine as she tried to unravel her family history in a country that was both familiar and strange to her. (Though French, New Caledonia is very much its own country with its own cultural idiosyncrasies, beautifully depicted in this book.)

The second story is one of a young half-Melanesian’s childhood and youth with his adoptive Caldoche parents. It also delves into New Caledonian history. It reveals information about land disputes in the early 1980s (between the Kanaks and the Caldoches) and the lead-up to the tensions in 1984 (les “Evenements”) through to the Ouvéa Crisis (1989). Based in historical fact, but adjusted to protect privacy, Poinciana is a great read for anyone interested in what happened in New Caledonia in the 80s. I was both surprised and moved by what I read, at times moved to tears.

Speaking with Jane Turner Goldsmith via email after I had finished the book, I learned that she had lived here during the 80s and was very familiar with the energy and confusion one feels as an outsider. We can see both sides of the story here, even today, and as we approach the independence vote in 2014-18. On the one hand, we can understand what it must feel like to have one’s land taken away, one’s land, one’s livelihood and one’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, the Europeans have been here for generations – and they, too, feel the land is in their sweat and tears.

Many ask me what will happen with the vote. According to the Matignon Accord, New Caledonia will be turned over to its people by the end of this decade. Preparations are already underway.

Jane speaks of coming back to visit New Caledonia, perhaps next year. I hope I will be able to spend some time with her, over coffee, learning what it was really like to be here 30 years ago. She tells me I can go to the Librairie Montaigne to find out more. I can feel a visit coming on … can’t you?


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