Review: Island of Shattered Dreams

During the tāmā’ara’a that follows the meeting, the whole village talks of nothing else but this war. Where on earth is this Motherland, and whatever is this Germany? Why should they defend a country they’ve never seen and whose name they’ve probably heard a dozen times in their lives, if that! Why did that Papa’ā call them children of his great nation, when they are and will always be Mā’ohi? Why has he come to get them to chase out the foreigners from his country, when they themselves have settled here without any right to do so?

Island of Shattered Dreams

Summary and Thoughts

Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.


Ooooh, I really wanted to like this book so much, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me.

First, I want to say that I really appreciated the time Spitz took in crafting the language in this piece, for it was beautifully written and I enjoyed how mythology was interwoven throughout the story. Overall, structurally, this was a great effort to condense a large story into a small book. Spitz is at her strongest when she delves into Tahitian history, the devastation of colonization, and voices of the Indigenous people, such as in the very beginning and in the epilogue. Though this is the first translated novel by an Indigenous Tahitian woman, I hope to see far more in the future and will absolutely be on the look out for more works covering this important history. 

That being said, this felt like a novel of “so and so fell in love with so and so because they are in love and beautiful” about eight times over, with a constant assertion of the superiority of romantic love. It was unnerving seeing how the book seemed to emphasize that women are only fulfilled when they are wives and mothers and any effort to stray from this path would lead to devastation and regret. I understand that this is supposed to be a romantic epic, but I wasn’t convinced of any of the romances and I wish there was more acknowledgement of the characters’ lives beyond this aspect. Additionally, there was a lot of ableism that I wasn’t prepared for and wasn’t necessary to the plot. Since I’m somewhat sensitive to the above issues, this story didn’t work for me. That’s not say others can’t enjoy this story, but for me, I felt as though I was bracing myself throughout the whole piece.

In any case, with the publication of this novel, I hope more Indigenous-written work from Tahiti becomes widely available so I can read even more perspectives and stories. 

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

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