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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera 
28th-Sep-2006 11:01 pm
I definitely want to read more by Ihimaera...provided I can find it cheap. Which isn't looking like it's going to be happening, alas.

Ihimaera, Witi. The Whale Rider. New York: Harcourt, 2003. (First New Zealand Edition: 1987)
Summary: Koro is searching for his tribe's future chief--a male--but instead he gets Kahu, a great-granddaughter who, as it turns out, can speak to whales like the tribe's legendary ancestor. Unfortunately, Koro refuses to acknowledge her, and it isn't until the ancient whale who was companion to Paikea allows her to ride him that her destiny to reunite the Maori with the spirit of nature is revealed.
Comments: Though in places it does admittedly get a touch histrionic, the overall effect was one of comedy, tragedy, and heartbreaking beauty. I laughed out loud when the toddler Kahu starts calling her great-grandfather "Paka" (which, according to the author, means "bugger") because his wife does it, and a felt a lump forming in my throat when, as a eight-year-old, she rides away with the whales and what she believes will be her death. Even though the story is ostensibly about a girl overcoming her tribe's patriarchal prejudices, I found Ihimaera to be way too complacent when it came to women's roles. Basically, the conclusion is that women top men only in specific supernatural situations, and Koro seems hen-pecked by Flowers more than he is ruled by her. Even Kahu blames fate, not Koro, for the discrimination she suffers from. Being saintly doesn't win you rights in the real world, unfortunately. I also notices that the Paikea legend was told with almost homoerotic intensity. In light of the author's depictions of women, I'm betting that's not entirely coincidental. Still, it's a really lovely, fun story about breaking down the wall between the natural and the supernatural and an accessible point of entry into an experience with modern Maori.
Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition, movie tie-in
Rating: 7.5/10 - My disappointment with regards to the gender roles makes me hesitant to recommend this to children, but adults, particularly ones with a conservationist bent, will find the reading rich with pleasures.
29th-Sep-2006 03:26 am (UTC)
Whoa, I read that book a long ways back. Good stuff - maybe I'll pick it up again at some point.
29th-Sep-2006 02:43 pm (UTC)
*curious* Did you read it back in 2003 or before that?
29th-Sep-2006 02:47 pm (UTC)
Definitely before - early nineties. It was one of those books that I read multiple times at the middle school library, so I remember it pretty well. It was shelved right by the Anne McCaffrey books. *shudder*
29th-Sep-2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
That's (trying to think of a word for it)...fascinating. 'Cause 2003 was the first time the book was published in the US; your middle school must've been getting imports somewhere--lucky them.
29th-Sep-2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
Very odd...it might have been a donation, we did get lots of those. Primarily from military families (is there anything else in Hampton Roads?), so I suppose it's not entirely out of the question.
29th-Sep-2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
Any of those military families doing duty in, say, Australia, New Zealand, or thereabouts? I get the impression the author is very well known there but not so much (to say the least) over here.
29th-Sep-2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
Oh yea - Hampton Roads has the distinction of having something like fifteen military bases, primarily Navy. We'd have people coming in who had been stationed all over the world. With families. Not to mention all the long 6-12 month ship deployments for sailors, who send back boxes of stuff to their families from where ever the ship happens to be.

Random trivia! Hampton Roads was actually the #1 target for nuclear bombardment during the Cold War. Not DC, not any of the other big cities...
29th-Sep-2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
*nods* Well, in that case, it's most likely that the book you were reading DID come from abroad, courtesy of some sailor and/or family who heard that the book was a "big thing."

Ah, the Cold War. While taking a tour of Bell Labs at Murray Hill in New Jersey a few years ago, the guide told us that back in the day they were experimenting with top-secret nuclear weapons technology "beneath that tower over there." I told my mother, who did and still does work right next door, and she groaned. *shakes head*
29th-Sep-2006 08:15 am (UTC)
His novel Uncle's Story is amazing. :)
29th-Sep-2006 01:25 pm (UTC)
Even though that one is one of the few still in print here, it's also RE~ALLY expensive. T_T
29th-Sep-2006 12:19 pm (UTC)
I have the movie^_^ It's not bad but as you say it's lacking in depicting women.
29th-Sep-2006 02:42 pm (UTC)
Perhaps the book is better than the movie. But it's often that way, isn't it? ^^;
29th-Sep-2006 04:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's true. The movie is very understated as if they didn't know how to transform the book's subtleties into film. Yet it won a lot of awards though, even if I think it's due to the unusual subject matter than any real merit.
29th-Sep-2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
In the book, the girl is a kind of cipher. The book itself is narrated by her uncle, her father's younger brother, so there's way more about his life and psyche than hers. Did the movie excise that part? It wouldn't surprise me...
30th-Sep-2006 07:34 am (UTC)
The movie doesn't have an obvious narrator. It kind of focuses on the girl but nobody is explicitly commenting or narrating.
1st-Oct-2006 03:30 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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