Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Olivia, My LIfe of Exile in Kalaupapa by Olivia Robello Breitha

In the Colony, John Tayman focuses on a handful of more contemporary residents of Kalaupapa, one of whom was Olivia Robello Breitha.

After becoming aware of Breitha's falling out with Tayman and disillusionment with his book, I decided that, in the interest of equal time, I must read her book also.

Breitha's book is a heartfelt, primary source accounting which borderlines on defensiveness while regaling the reader with stories, most of which serve to dramatically underline the inhumanity of the experience.

In this way, Breitha and Tayman seem to be soulmates. So, why did Breitha object so vehemently to Tayman's book?

Breitha, who passed away in January of 2006, was a prickly, proud woman. This comes through time and again in her writing. As best as I can tell, her reaction to Tayman was born out of the sentiment that "Only I'm allowed to talk bad about my (fill in the blank)." The exiles of Kalaupapa were victims of an inhumane system and lacked control over so much in their lives that they desire to control their stories and to not be portrayed merely as victims by others.

Breitha balances each episode of victimization she recounts with another episode wherein she flouts or challenges authority.

The writing is raw and amateurish but the authentic voice of a survivor of Kalaupapa rings through.

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