01 August, 2016

The Matriarch by Witi Ihimaera

I was reading this book in a sort of the same way I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace during my school years. No, it was not boring (I’m a bit of a nerd and a great fan of Tolstoy). It is just that in both novels I found myself savouring pieces about people, relationships and family, while only skimming through parts on wars and battles (which were just a little too long for my girlish taste).

Comparison can be a fascinating process, so I carried on thinking of other similarities between these two very different novels by one of the greatest Russian writers of all time and an established contemporary Māori author.

To name just a few, both books are epics, quite massive in size; both cover the major historical events in the respective countries, arguing the authors’ particular (and radical at times) views on history. 

The Matriarch reflects the years of Māori protest from a solely Māori perspective stressing the clash between Māori and Pākehā cultures. It challenges the official pro-European view on New Zealand history, so I can see the novel might be very confronting for Pākehā readers. It is a brave book with a fighting spirit and a clear political dimension.

There is a time for war and a time for peace. Just as Tolstoy’s classic, Ihimaera’s novel steadily develops a very strong family theme. Unlike the traditional New Zealand man alone type with no roots and place to go, the Māori protagonist returns to the family to discover his true self. His relationships with his parents, sisters, mysterious grandmother and Pākehā wife humanise the fighting hero as well as enrich greatly the story plot.

Title: The Matriarch
Author: Witi Ihimaera

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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