Set in 1960s American Samoa, Mango Rash recounts Nan Sanders Pokerwinski’s transformation from typical Oklahoma teen to world traveller.
Samoa presents the perfect backdrop for adolescence. Pokerwinski’s family arrives during a wave of heightened American influence on the island; it is changing as much as Nancy. Over the course of her 11 month stay, she falls in love (more than once), makes new friends, rebels more than she ever has, dances, tutors elementary students, occasions an indoor disaster, as well as witnesses a disastrous hurricane, and watches expats come and go. She gets sick. She considers her experience like palolo, “a delicacy to be scooped up and devoured…. Gobbling it all down before it was gone” (148).
In careful attention to language, Pokerwinski relishes each new experience, from unforgettable to mundane. Her science writing background shows through in her keen observations of her exotic environment. Each chapter begins with a quote about Samoa or a Samoan idiom, establishing a clear theme for the chapter’s stories. She delves into Samoan vocabulary for wisdom. (A helpful glossary of all words used follows at the end). Italicized sections act as interludes, probing deeper into Samoan life or Pokerwinski’s inner thoughts. Inspired by Margaret Mead’s book about Samoa, Pokerwinski’s reflections lean toward social experiment, engaging with culture more than studying it. She relates how Samoa influences her shifting identity. In this way, her book appeals beyond an insightful glimpse into Samoa; it sounds a global message about self-awareness and making sense of memory.
The epilogue hints that there is more of the story to come. This taste of Pokerwinski’s adventurous life is enough to pique interest in a sequel.
Part coming-of-age, part anthropology, part travelogue, Mango Rash highlights teenage turbulence with Samoan flair.