Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera


The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
First published in New Zealand in 1987.

This is my 1980s read for the 2016-17 Goodreads / BookCrossing Decade Challenge and one of my WorldReads from New Zealand.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the hardback from The Book Depository
Buy the hardback from Waterstones

How I got this book:
Bought from a charity shop

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eight-year-old Kahu craves her great-grandfather's love and attention. But he is focused on his duties as chief of a Maori tribe in Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand - a tribe that claims descent from the legendary 'whale rider'. In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir - there's only kahu. She should be the next in line for the title, but her great-grandfather is blinded by tradition and sees no use for a girl. Kahu will not be ignored. And in her struggle she has a unique ally: the whale rider himself, from whom she has inherited the ability to communicate with whales. Once that sacred gift is revealed, Kahu may be able to re-establish her people's ancestral connections, earn her great-grandfather's attention - and lead her tribe to a bold new future.

I saw the film version of The Whale Rider first so already had an idea of the story before reading the book. I think this was the right way around because, as is usual, there seemed to be more in the book! We read of Kahu from her birth to the revelation of her ancestral powers and I loved that Ihimaera also writes of the Maori tales and legends surrounding the Whale Rider. This gave me a fuller understanding of Kahu's significance within her people. Characters' words are frequently given in Maori which also enhanced my sense of a cultural story. (I didn't actually refer to the Maori-English glossary at the back until I had finished reading because I didn't want to interrupt the flow of Ihimaera's writing.) Mostly it is straightforward to work out a translation or the relevant phrase is explained within the text.

I felt that the Maori traditions of oral storytelling shone through in this novel. We learn about Kahu's great-grandfather's insistence that tribal chiefs must be male, even though the women of her family remember female chiefs in the past, and the moral of following your destiny despite the closed ideas of others is put forward in an inspirational way without overly hammering home the message. This book is intended for a young adult audience so, for me, it was a swift read. It gives a vivid portrait of a close-knit and relatively strong Maori community - in contrast to the poverty-stricken depiction I read of in Katherine Hayton's The Second Stage Of Grief.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Witi Ihimaera / Young adult books / Books from New Zealand

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