I had the rare good fortune to have a job that allowed me to get to know the terrritory of American Samoa, the only flag-flying part of the United States south of the equator. I visited the territory twice and was impressed by the beauty of the islands and by the strong American patriotism of the people. American Samoa has a unique relationship with the United States which allows its inhabitants to practice the Fa'a Samoa, or the traditional Samoan way of life. Samoa presents a challenging mixture of local and American values.
The fond memories I have of American Samoa led me to this new book, "Pago Pago Tango" by John Enright. [Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa is pronounced "Pango Pango"]. Enright is a mainland American who lived in Samoa and taught at the American Samoa Community College (which I visited) for many years before returning to the United States.
It was a pleasure to visit American Samoa again in this book with Enright as a guide. I recognized the places he describes --the government buildings, the American Samoa National Park with its rickety cable car which somehow I found the nerve to ride, the hotel, the cannery, the airport, the LBJ Hospital, the local jail and its culture, the small local shops and restaurants, and more. It was recollection for me while it will be a new world for most American readers.
Enright has written a complex involved mystery centring upon a Samoan detective, Apelu Soifua. Pelu, as he is called, spent much of his childhood in San Francisco followed by seven years as a detective on its police force before returning to his native island. Pelu's life and detective work shows the tension between mainland and Samoan culture, a tension mirrored in American Samoa itself. His story develops slowly and involves a complicated series of events and crimes beginning with a small break-in at a home in a compound reserved for mainlanders which gradually escalates and becomes tied in through Pelu's efforts to murders and a large clandestine drug operation.