The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

The Whale Rider

Kahutia Te Rangi didn’t wish to be a girl, but lo behold she was born one. She was named after the famous whale rider, who brought the Maori people to the East Coast of New Zealand. But Kahu longs for the love of the one person who refuses together: her grandfather. The Whale Rider is an exquisite tale of how one girl stands against the traditions of her tribe to reconnect them with their spiritual past.

The Whale Rider was the first book focused around the Maori culture and by a Maori author. I travelled to New Zealand in December 2013-January 2014 and was captivated by the culture, so of course I was eager to learn more and therefore read a book which had the centre point was tradition.

The first thing I realised I had to do, however, was take a note of the time period. I don’t know why, but I kept assuming that this book was set within the present day – ie, with high-tech computers and mobile phones etc. But no, it was actually written in 1986! Just something to look out for – especially as it explores the topic of racism in brutal detail (based in Papua New Guinea).

Okay and now onto the actual novel. The ‘main’ character in this, Kahu (it’s not told from her POV, but more on him later), didn’t actually seem to be in it much, in detail at least. Her actual story was scattered throughout. Now, this works in both ways: in one, it meant that her story was told in an interesting way with detail about the MC’s life, but Kahu’s story was still told in enough detail to understand that it was about her. However, it also meant that the focus was taken off her, despite everything that happened being related to her in some way. Anyway, I liked her nevertheless.

Onto the MC – although the story was about him, I felt that we learnt more about the characters around him that him himself (I should stop using the pronoun ‘him’. His name is actually Rawiri).This is the type of book I have wanted to find for a long time: one in which the main character isn’t actually the main character. If you get my drift. I really liked it, actually.

To the writing style now: which I loved. It was humourous (such as Nanny Flowers and Koro – a comedy duo if I have ever read about one!). There were just quite a few lines which genuinely made me laugh out loud (I got a few odd looks from busing companions). It’s a genuinely funny book. The style was also catchy, and the short chapters (well, some were) made it quite quick to read (especially as it is novella length). However, the author incorporates Maori language into the text, which, while being different and interesting, can be a bother if you’re constantly flicking back to the glossary (not to mention the fact that some words aren’t in there). Still, I have learnt some of the language, which is actually rather beautiful.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Whale Rider – it’s an interesting read (although the film adaption looks TERRIBLE!) and I would recommend it for children and adolescents. It’s not a jump-in-your-face kind of read, more laid back, but perfectly for a chapter or two before you turn the light out at night.

TITLE: The Whale Rider
AUTHOR: Witi Ihimaera
PUBLISHER: Reed Publishing
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1987 (this edition 2007)
PRICE: £6.99
ISBN: 978-0-7900-0868-4
PERSONAL SOURCE: Borrowed from my mum’s shelves