The Charm Buyers

Paperback: $19.99
ISBN-13: 9780824858520
Published: January 2017

Additional Information

328 pages


  • Winner of the Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for Literature, 2019
  • SHARE:
  • About the Book
  • 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.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Lillian Howan, Author

      Lillian Howan is an attorney and writer whose parents immigrated to the United States from Tahiti and Raiatea. She spent her early childhood in Tahiti and later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the editor of Wakako Yamauchi’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, Calyx, New England Review, and Under Western Eyes, an anthology edited by Garrett Hongo.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • 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
    • 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 Eaves of Heaven and Catfish and Mandala
    • Ultimately what makes this novel a haunting, dreamlike and immersive read is its crisp, elegant and sumptuously precise prose that weaves an engrossing tale. . . . Howan has a fine, attentive ear for language that is evident in her writing. The Charm Buyers is a thoroughly recommended read [that] leaves the reader craving for her next project to be published.
      —Micheline Soong, Pacific Rim Review of Books, 11:2 (Summer 2017)
    • Howan’s language is breathtaking, building a land and family with detail and power. The novel is full of characters, all related to one another in various ways, yet each person stands out for a different reason. . . . The Charm Buyers is a thought-provoking insight into a time of cultural change. It captures an essence of existing between reality and surreality, dreaming and wakefulness, the past and the future.
      —Shana Creaney, Foreword Reviews
    • 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
    • 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
  • Supporting Resources