A book full of personal contradictions for me. It provokes sentiments of belonging, which for me, being as I am both Māori and Pākehā, very difficult. When I didn’t belong it was aggressive almost bordering on accusational. I felt my “Pākehā-ness” come to the fore and felt unwelcome. But when I belonged, I felt vindicated, understood; a warmth that comes from the familiar. But I could never work out where I belonged, I spent a lot of time standing at the window looking in; sometimes welcome inside but often not. Perhaps this could be the basis for criticism – but it isn’t; rather, I think it perfectly mimicks what it feels like to be a person of mixed descent growing up in New Zealand. Your identity is never entirely secure in one world or the other.
NOT that this was Ihimaera’s point. His intent in rewriting the original Whanau is clearly political; it is a statement about being Māori, identifying as Māori, claiming a path that is Māori. I appreciate that and I endorse what it represents, but it’s just not always that comfortable to read.
But then books that make us uncomfortable sometimes constitute essential reading.