Monday, January 24, 2005

I know, I usually don't update so quick, but I had to blog this one. Seriously. Just had to. I'm ignoring my other homework to do so. This means you have to go read it!

Book: Whale Rider
Author: Witi Ihimaera
Published: 2003 (in the U.S.)

You may have heard of the movie, which won all sorts of awards and stuff a few years ago. That's why I initially picked this up. I can't compare them, because I haven't seen the movie yet. But now I damn well want to.

Koro Apirana, a Maori chief in New Zealand, is horrified and disgusted when his first great-grandchild is born a girl. He needs a boy to carry on the chieftainship and preserve the swiftly-dying Maori traditions. Ignoring the multitude of signs that baby Kahu is exactly the one to carry on, he starts searching for a boy among the other families of the tribe, with little success, and rejects the love Kahu offers him every day. Lucky for little Kahu, she's got her Nanny Flowers and her uncle Rawiri to back her up. Still, all she wants is her great-grandfather's love and approval. Interwoven throughout is the story of an old bull whale, coming to the end of his life and still longing for the golden human master he knew in his youth. When Kahu and the old bull whale meet . . . well, you'll have to read it and find out.

This book reads more like a legend than your usual novel, with unexpected snippets of novelesque narration. Ihimaera doesn't pull any punches--he shows a brutal roadside accident and the death of hundreds of beached whales with the same matter-of-factness as he shows a school play that the great-grandfather (predictably) didn't show up for. The novel is mostly narrated by Kahu's uncle Rawiri, which allows us to see her birth and early years. Some parts switch to an italicised narration of the whales' experiences in the sea.

It's a little confusing at times, but the legendary feel and your immersion in Maori culture make this an addictive read. I closed the book with the feeling that Ihimaera no doubt wanted to evoke: that Kahu was destined for great things. I'm also extremely interested in finding out more about the Maori culture. Well, what are you waiting for? Go pick it up!

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