50 Books by Authors of Color: Book 21
Title: Whale Rider
Author: Witi Ihimaera
I feel obligated to say that I love the film version of Whale Rider. I choke up with tears every-time Keisha Castle-Hughes as Paikiea takes the stage to give the speech that she dedicates to her Grandfather. I’m a big softie, I can’t even pretend. I always wanted to read the book that the film was based on, and I figured there was no time like the present and the fact that part of the point of this blog was to read a lot of the books that I had wanted to over the years. Needless to say, I had some high expectations of this book.
I was a bit thrown off that the narrator of the book wasn’t Kahu (who is not named Paikea in the book), but instead Rawiri, who really wasn’t a pivotal character in the movie. After listening to the book for a little while, it made perfect sense. It would have been like watching Star Wars from Luke Skywalker’s perspective, and having to listen to him say “I’m the chosen one” over and over again. Or worse, Neo trying to convince everyone that he’s the one. Instead we’re given Rawiri’s perspective on the whole event, which makes it much more neutral, and quite frankly, makes me disappointed that he wasn’t a larger character in the film.
Kahu’s birth is a disappointment to her Great Grandfather Koro, who wants a male great grandchild to carry on the cultural traditions and eventually become chief. He’s a misogynist, and doesn’t believe that Kahu is of any use to him. He couldn’t be more wrong. From the time she can crawl Kahu exhibits signs of being touched with the spirit of their ancestor Paikea all of which Koro doesn’t seem to notice, blinded by his search for a male heir to the chiefdom of his Maori people. It takes little Kahu being taken out to see by a large bullwhale, tattooed with the sign of Paikea to convince him of how blind he’s been.
The whale narrative was extremely juvenile, and reminded me I was reading a kids book. The magical realism with the whales was just kind of tossed in. I felt that it was awkwardly trying to put more spirit and otherness into the work to make it more authentic, when I felt that Kahu, Koro and Rawiri’s beliefs were enough to do that for me.
Overall Raiting: 3/5