This book is set in a world (yes, world, more than place) I don’t usually come across, not event through books, so it was the perfect choice for A More Diverse Universe.
The Whale Rider is about the Māori tribe of Whangara, in particular the relationship between eight-year-old Kahu and her great-grandfather Koro, the chieftain. In each generation a boy is chosen to lead the tribe, so it was a big disappointment for Koro when his first great-grandchild was a girl.
Since Kahu’s birth Koro is on a mission to find the tribe’s future leader outside his closest family, which makes him blind to every attempt by Kahu to get noticed and loved by him. He also doesn’t notice her mysterious abilities, until the whales come to die in Whangara’s bays…
They swam in brilliant shoals, like rain of glittering dust, through the greestone depth - hapuku, manga, kahawai, tamure, moki, and warehou - herded by shark or mango ururoa.
How beautiful is the Māori language? Not all the book has that many foreign words in one sentence, but the glossary at the end was useful several times.
This is one of those YA books that at first seems simple and sweet but if you think about it long enough becomes complex and sweet. The story alternates between the Whangara family and the story of the whales that are coming towards them. In between you’ll also get snippets of the legend of Whangara tribe’s origins and the reason behind their bond with the whales.
This book stood out to me because the “magical” elements are weaved in in such a subtle way that it made me think twice before actually classifying the book as “fantasy”. Some people told me over Twitter that the movie is even better – do you agree? It entered my list of Favorite Modern Takes on Old Legends.
On the background of Kahu, her great-grandfather and the whales are other stories and events that make this book a great choice for class or bookclub discussion: the rational vs. the irrational, the human vs. the animal, the strength of Māori women, breaking tradition towards an inclusive culture (Kahu being banned from Māori classes because she’s a girl - sniff), racism, etc.
Some people told me that the movie is even better than the book – do you agree? Must get my hands on it soon.
About Witi Ihimaera (from the New Zealand Book Council website)
The first Māori writer to publish both a book of short stories and a novel, Witi Ihimaera considers ‘the world I’m in as being Māori, not European,’ and his fiction develops out of this perspective. He creates imaginative new realities for his readers, drawing from autobiographical experience. In 1996 he also moved to foreground his sexuality, describing Nights in the Gardens of Spain as keeping faith with his gay audience.
He writes new work for opera and his novel, The Whale Rider, has become an internationally successful feature film.