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Lillian Howan

Lillian Howan is a writer and attorney whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Tahiti and Raiatea. She spent her early childhood in Tahiti and went on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the editor of Wakako Yamauchi’s collection, Rosebud and Other Stories. Her first novel, The Charm Buyers, publishes January 2017 by the University of Hawai‘i Press.

In The Charm Buyers describes extraordinary beauty and turbulent change: Tahiti during the last years ofFrench 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. The Charm Buyers presents a world in transition and its people―black pearl cultivators, artists, taro farmers, politicians, smugglers, and shamans.


“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 idea racial threads that bind the magical isles of Tahiti. This tender, enchanting romance held me captive for many evenings.” –AndrewX. Pham, author of The Eaves of Heaven and Catfish and Mandala

“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


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The Charm Buyers: Book Talk with author Lillian Howan