A New York Times Editors’ Choice and a blazing and authentic new literary voice, Peter Nathaniel Malae’s raw and powerful, bullet-fast debut novel looks at contemporary America through the eyes of one disillusioned son.
What We Are follows twenty-eight-year-old Samoan-American Paul Tusifale as he strives to find his place in a culture that barely acknowledges his existence. Within San Jose’s landscape of sprawling freeways and dotcom headquarters, where the plight of migrant workers is ever-present, Paul lives outside society, a drifter who takes a personal interest in defiantly—even violently—defending those in need. As he moves through the lives of sinister old friends, suburban cranksters, and septuagenarian swingers, Paul battles to find the wisdom he desperately needs, whether through adhering to tradition or casting it aside.
A dynamic addition to America’s diverse literature of the outsider, What We Are establishes Peter Nathaniel Malae as an authentic, gifted new writer, whose muscular prose brings to life the pull of a departed father’s homeland, the anger of class divisions, the noise of the evening news, and in the end beautifully renders the pathos of the disengaged.
Malae's debut novel (after the collection Teach the Free Man) is a high energy rant narrated by a half-Samoan/half-white drifter trying to survive in a world bent on marginalizing seekers of truth and integrity. Malae's antihero, Paul Tusifale, an ex-con and poet, wanders the dark corners of Silicon Valley like a corrosive Midas, ruining everything he comes in contact with, whether it's a civil rights march or a wealthy patron's poetry fellowship. Paul's voice is filled with anger and intelligence, and though his rants can come off preachy byproducts of his moral superiority and self-imposed martyrdom, when he backs away from smart-ass comments, superior glares, and Shakespearean quotes, his toughness transforms into a heartbreaking shield against futility, and he becomes a man with an idea on how to save us all. The novel's at its strongest during these moments, bearing a message that in the face of the madness of the modern world, the most important thing is to know yourself and to hold onto that at whatever cost. It's got rough patches, but the voice is gold.