CHANGES IN LATITUDE
An Uncommon Anthropology
by Joana McIntyre Varawa (Atlantic Monthly Press:
$18.95; 272 pp.) Growing up in Chicago and Los Angeles, Joana Varawa was the classic rebel, dreaming of exotic Polynesia after her mother told her, "Comb your hair--you look like a Fijian," leaving her marriage (after raising a son) to take a job as harbor master in a small Hawaiian town, and leaving the town when she learned that a restaurant complex was slated to replace her favorite seaside hill. Once making good on her dream of moving to Fiji, however, Varawa realized that if she wanted to stay, she would have to become the ultimate conformist, learning to appreciate a foreign culture despite her inability to accept her own. On one level an account of Varawa's character reversal, "Changes in Latitude" also has larger relevance as a book about holding onto self-respect despite the loss of familiar moorings and letting go of emotional defenses in order to experience the tumultuous feelings that are part and parcel of new experience.
Flying to Fiji in search of somewhere "bushy and wild," Varawa arrived in the city of Nadi, some place "hot and sticky." Soon, however, several "quietly beautiful" Fijian women invited her to their traditional fishing village, where she quickly became enmeshed in heated social dramas, with people she hardly knew telling her where she could go and with whom she could visit. "You stay away from Male, said one suspiciously jealous Fijian woman, "he's no good," but Varawa--reacting much as she had to her mother's advice--found herself attracted to this "fierce, charming man-child." Not long after Male proposes--suggesting, in broken English, that she can help tame his violent temper--she finds herself saying "yes."
Varawa soon discovers that Male cannot change; he often orders his new wife around, as is the custom, and resists her attempts to "meddle in his heart . . . to teach him that there is no need for that darkness to enter his eyes, the darkness that blots out thought and reason." Eventually, though, Varawa overcomes her disappointment, moving onto a private island with Male and settling into a domestic life "of pots filled with fish soup and sleeping dogs and burrowing pigs."
At one point, she stops to envy the simple lives of two pigs she sees mating: "I wish my mind were as clear as Miss Oink's, for mine is constantly finding fault with and looking for holes in the fabric of perfection that I would call love. Oh! just to stand still and half close my eyes and, when finished, lie in the shallows cooling my belly or burrow in the cool dirt under the trees, body and soul at rest." Most of these pages, though, pay tribute to the beautiful complexity of life among Varawa's own species, from the village's surprising equality of labor to the cathartic effect of Males anger on their relationship: "Culture is a garment that clothes the soul," Varawa writes. "We may never be able, or even want, to exchange our cloaks, but what matters is the perception of each other's realities, even if the reality is hatred."
The Kamikaze Pilots
Tell Their Story
\o7 by Hatsuho Naito
(Kodansha: $18.95; 215 pp.) \f7 "Dr. Strangelove," the movie where a U. S. Air Force base commander attacks the Russians because he believes they are conspiring to fluoridate the Free World's water, reaches its lunatic height when a bomber pilot bedecked in a cowboy hat manages to release an intractable A-bomb by jumping on it and gleefully riding it like a bronco. The humor of the scene lay in its absurdity, of course, but a similar act was in fact commonplace toward the end of World War II, when a desperate Japan began launching its "Okha" planes, little more than man-guided missiles. Okha pilots would drink the ritual sake, listen to rallying cries cheery enough for a football game ("Keep your eyes open! Peel and dive! Go for it!"), and then fly their blasting-powder-filled planes into enemy ships at speeds approaching 600 miles per hour.