By Ekta R. Garg
September 20, 2017
Genre: Women’s fiction
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
Five women in their sixties decide to take up residence on the island of Fiji in a bid for a new phase of life. The friends rely on their ties from high school to buffer them from resistance by their families, but they will also have to find something solid to counter their own doubts about the entire enterprise. Norwegian author Anne Ostby offers American readers a plot that proceeds at the same languid pace as a day on a sunny South Pacific island in the book Pieces of Happiness.
Katrine “Kat” Vale lives in the village of Korototoka in Fiji, far away from her home country of Norway. Right after high school, she followed the love of her life, Niklas, on a grand adventure. They traveled the world seeking opportunities to help the less fortunate and downtrodden. They’ve built buildings and started schools and finally decided to set up retirement in the South Pacific with a cocoa farm. An accident takes Niklas from Kat, and she’s lived enough life now to know that she’s lonely and needs company.
Kat reaches out to her friends from high school. They had quite a group, the five of them, and even though they haven’t stayed in consistent contact since their school days Kat sends each of them a letter. She knows them all well enough to guess they’ll join her in Fiji, that they’ll be willing to change their lives and come live out the rest of their days with her.
And they do come. Sina, a single mother whose son’s greatest accomplishment is leeching money from his mother at every possible opportunity, arrives first. Dependable Ingrid comes next, and she brings with her the secret alter ego no one knows about. Lisbeth escapes her lackluster marriage to high school sweetheart Harald to join the others in Fiji.
The only one left to arrive is Maya, but Maya’s daughter emails Kat to let her know that there will be a delay. Maya has been diagnosed with an irreversible health problem. Kat responds with an encouraging note. Bring her anyway, she says. Maybe the sunshine will do Maya some good for whatever time she has left.
In her letters to them, Kat had hinted at the possibility of starting a new business: turning some of the cocoa harvest into chocolate for sale. As they explore the idea, all of the women begin to work through their own issues. Kat deals with her anger at Niklas for dying. Sina must decide if she can stand up to her son. Ingrid leaves behind the ordered world of accounting for a more free-spirited approach to life. Lisbeth finds that she has more to contribute to their new family than just keeping house. All of them, including Kat, look out for Maya who needs more help as the weeks and months progress. When they come to a series of crossroads, all of them will need to make decisions that change their lives more than changing to Fiji ever could.
Author Anne Ostby draws on her own experiences living around the world as well as her Norwegian heritage to create the characters and her plot. Her careful detailing of life in Fiji may draw readers in, but it also leaves the pace plodding along. The story develops in its own sweet time, and some readers may get impatient with the book as they wait for Kat and Company to encounter the novel’s key conflicts.
Readers will guess some of those conflicts long before they come to fruition, but Ostby manages to keep a few secrets along the way. For those who stick with the book all the way through, the secrets may provide some satisfaction. It may take a healthy dose of patience to get that far, however.
I recommend readers Borrow Pieces of Happiness.