11 March, 2016

The Singing Whakapapa by C.K. Stead

This powerful historical novel is the story of three generations of one Pakeha family living, loving and dying in the country for more than a century. It won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction in 1995 and is one of the finest works of the distinguished New Zealand poet, critic and novelist C.K. Stead.

A sixty-year old retired librarian Hugh Grady tries to make sense of his own life by tracing his family history, his “singing whakapapa”. His great-great grandfather is in the centre of the story: an English missionary agriculturist who, along with other migrants, ventured the seas in search for a better life. In New Zealand, he found himself involved into intertribal musket wars of the 1830s and the controversial signing of the Treaty.

And whatever islands may be

Under or over the sea,

It is something different, something

Nobody counted on.
(Allen Curnow)

While most episodes of the book are based on actual events and people, Stead’s true interest lies in the hidden side of the history, its emotional component and family skeletons. This is something that makes the novel both an exciting and valuable read. There are faces and stories in preference to facts and documents. Love, betrayal, murder and courage. Lost and found lovers, illegitimate children. All at once, the past becomes vivid and alive, enabling the reader to experience the story through thoughts, senses and feelings. 

Book: The Singing Whakapapa
Author: C.K. Stead

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

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