Big Fella Ta afuli Andrew Fiu Purple Heart The

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					Big Fella - Ta’afuli Andrew Fiu "Purple Heart" – The Book and the Author




                                        TAAFULI ANDREW FIU "PURPLE HEART" THE
                                        BOOK AND THE AUTHOR
Good On 'Ya                                                                                                                         tell a friend and win
Arse Kickers                            When Ta’afuli Andrew Fiu was 14 he was going to
                                        be an All Black. The winger for the De La Salle                                             new competitions
One-on-One                              College second XV had already scored a bunch of                                             check winners
Editorial                               tries for his school team and was looking forward to
                                        taking the step up to the top level the next year –
A Bit Of A Laugh                        just like one John Kirwan had. That was until he got
                                        sick.

                                        The son of an immigrant Samoan family, Ta’a was
                                        renamed Andrew by the nuns at the Ponsonby
                                        convent school he attended as a young fella. It didn’t
                                        go over too well with his parents but then again it
                                        was just another abuse doled out on Pacific Island
                                        immigrants by the religious and societal hegemony
                                        of the time.

                                        Like many Polynesian immigrants in the 1970’s, the Fius had moved to the suburb
                                        of Mangere in South Auckland to be closer to the industrial operations that
                                        employed so many Pacific Islanders. When Andrew fell ill, he was taken to his local
                                        doctor, only to be diagnosed with a cold and sent home for bed rest.

                                        It wasn’t a cold.

                                        What Andrew desperately needed was a correct diagnosis – Rheumatic fever was
                                        what he was actually suffering from. If you don’t know, rheumatic fever (an outbreak
                                        of the illness was occurring in New Zealand in the early 1980’s) attacks the muscles
                                        of the heart and does it quickly. Within weeks Ta’a Andrew Fiu was in Middlemore
                                        Hospital, confined to bed in an unfriendly adult ward. He would watch nine people
                                        die in his first month of hospitalisation, and he would be in and out of wards for the
                                        next 26 years of his life.

                                        Purple Heart is the memoir of an extraordinary life. In the book Andrew candidly
                                        outlines life as a Samoan growing up in New Zealand society – the family
                                        gatherings, the dawn raids, the ample meals, the zeal for religion and a father’s
                                        disciplinary actions (there is one scene in particular that will horrify and amaze in
                                        equal parts.)

                                        Mostly though, this is a book of great humour in the most trying of circumstances.
                                        It’s a book about a lost childhood and a fast tracked maturity, all set against a
                                        backdrop of pacific island family, western medicine and a systematic racism.

                                        Chief protagonist among Andrew’s less-than-ideal ward mates is Bob Weston (not
                                        his real name), one of the most abusive, bitter and bigoted characters ever to make
                                        it into print. His tirades at a scared but indignant teenaged Andrew are recounted
                                        with an intensity reserved for the most traumatic of circumstances. Bob Weston was
                                        an arsehole – and Ta’a was effectively imprisoned alongside him. Think of the worst
                                        way for a child to grow up and triple it. His posthumously delivered letter to the
                                        author has to be read to be believed.

                                                                           When I meet Andrew it is the 40-year old media and
                                                                           design agency owner. Part pragmatist, part fatalist. I
                                                                           get the impression that at any given moment he is
                                                                           trying his best to hide what must be an almost
                                                                           overwhelming sense of bitterness.

                                                                           Although he doesn’t mention it in the book he tells
                                                                           me that he saw that original doctor again a few
                                                                           years back - the one who had misdiagnosed him. He
                                                                           was driving a taxi.

                                                                           Most of us faced with the man who, because of his
                                                                           inability to do his job, had cost us two and a half
                                                                           decades of health, would probably have more than a
                                                                           few things to say. Andrew just shrugs and asks
                                                                           rhetorically ‘what was I going to do? Grill him?
                                      What’s the point?’

                                      I couldn’t help thinking that I wouldn’t have been so big. It turns out that Andrew’s
                                      case effectively helped lead to a more thorough qualifications process for immigrant
                                      doctors. Or so the story goes.

                                      He’s pretty well adjusted – he says that whenever he makes a decision to do
                                      something, the first question he asks himself is whether he would regret it if he
                                      didn’t. (I can understand that) Andrew thinks the same racial undertones throughout
                                      the book are still as relevant today but as Mr Grace, the 90-year old roommate who
                                      died in the sunshine, told him: It could always be worse.

                                      That advice at least has never left him – though I suspect there have been many
                                      times when he has, at least subconsciously asked “yeah? How?” before regathering
                                      his composure. Today he is a successful businessman and a leader in his
                                      community and while he is obviously enjoying some form of independence there still
                                      is a frustration in Andrew – I suspect “I never got the chance to be an All Black!”
                                      would be chief suspect.

                                      Grab a copy of Purple Heart – it’s an honest and often emotional account of a life
                                      very much less ordinary and an almost accidental history of our nation’s unchanged
                                      attitudes toward certain cultures. It’s also about the ties that bind and the impotance
                                      of self-awareness. But most of all this is a story of courage – a timeless tale of how
                                      a young fella grew to be man under the most trying of circumstances.

                                      Scotty Stevenson

                                      Big Fella has five copies of Purple Heart to giveaway.



                                      Last updated: 6th of August 2006


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