Homes have a funny way of attaching themselves to you. You can live in one place for so long, that it becomes a part of who you are. And once you leave, you begin to miss every mundane aspect; the things you never took notice of before now seem like the things you cannot live without. The funny thing is, while you are away, your new home becomes equally a part of you. Without realizing, you grow accustomed to your new surroundings, all while longing for the home of your past. The saddest realization however, comes when the opportunity arises to return to that original home. It never seems to live up to the myth you made of it, and you start to miss what you left behind once again. The cycle begins again. You are never happy; you are always longing for what was.
In Albert Wendt’s novel, Sons for the Return Home, the unnamed protagonist experiences this profound longing for “home”. Wendt carefully structures the story with anecdotes of the past and present in order to mimic this longing. Up until he meets his papalagi girlfriend, the protagonist feels as though New Zealand has nothing to offer him. His good grades, success in sports, and university matriculation mean nothing because he constantly feels like an outsider. During this dark period, his stories of the present are flanked by stories of the past. Learning about his past sheds light on his present life. As the reader, we learn of his rich cultural background, and of the carefree life he and his family members enjoyed as islanders. However, these stories of the past quickly disappear when his girlfriend brings meaning to his life. Because she is from New Zealand, the protagonist begins to develop a new appreciation for the country he once despised. At the peak of his relationship, we only hear stories of the present, because he is happy. He longs for nothing. Once she leaves him however, he returns to Samoa and the stories become reversed. Back at home he begins to realize all the faults of the place he had been idealizing for years. His stories of the past quickly become stories of New Zealand and his girlfriend. He longs for indoor plumbing, books, and bug-less nights. As his discontent in Samoa grows, his stories of New Zealand do as well. By structuring the novel in this Wendt shows the reader how one is never truly happy when he longs for something in his past. Stories of the past seem to surround the protagonist when he is most unhappy, highlighting his discontent. This format allows the reader to become fully immersed in the protagonist’s inner turmoil, creating a very personal reading experience.