Patricia Grace, born in 1937 in Wellington, New Zealand, is a Maori and an award-wining writer of short stories, novels and children’s books. Her first collection of short stories, Waiariki and Other Stories, was a delight to read and a revelation as well. Simms, a literary critic, grouped the twelve stories in the collection into three categories: Maori tales, those stories written in English but containing some Maori syntax and thought; Macaronic, stories with a “high frequency” of Maori words and thought; and “English”, those stories with “no sense of disturbing English syntax beyond its normal bounds”. I enjoyed the Maori and Macaronic stories the most even though the author did not include a glossary for the many Maori words in the book. Much like reading an Indian novel dotted with Hindi words, the hybrid language allows incredible access to Grace’s Maori community. There is a naturalness to their actions and their lives. And it seems the author is most at ease writing in this style and unencumbered from the demands of writing everything in English, fashions a world that pops out of the pages and comes alive right before the reader’s eyes. I am so glad and thankful that Patricia Grace writes.
The collection reveals a people who are deeply connected to the land they inhabit and the sea around them. Familial relations, both immediate and extended are important. There are several camping and fishing trips for ruku koura, kina, pupu, hapuku and tarakihi. All accompanied by Maori bread. Got me hankering for a good seafood bake. The Maori culture that Grace portrays is a living thing, and is constantly being transformed within and without. She is particularly concerned with the effects of colonization by and the interaction with white New Zealanders (Pakehas). The opinions of the older generation are contrasted against those of the younger generation who must live in a society that is increasing multi-cultural. And so there is inevitably the sense of nostalgia, anger and (un)belonging among the younger generation who are told to live more like Pakehas. All stories are told against a background of Maori folklore and mythology.
The quality of collection is quite good and I loved most of the stories. My favorite stories include:
A Way of Talking – a magnificent story that at its heart interrogates speaking out in defense of cultural identity. It concludes with a sister’s realization that her outspoken sibling, Rose, has been hurt by repeated racial remarks and has been transformed through her interaction with Pakehas.
Rose was speaking to me in a new way now. It made me feel sorry for her and for myself. All my life I had been sitting back and letting her do the objecting. Not only me, but Mum and Dad and the rest of the family too. All of us too scared to make known when we had been hurt or slighted
Toki – an old man, Hotene, narrates an incident in his younger days, on the eve of his older brother’s wedding. Hotene, to win the hand of a girl, dares his rival, Toki the boast, to a fishing contest. In the ensuing events, Toki comes to fear sailing in boats.
He goes for the paua and the kina, now. He throws his line from the beach for the shark, but no more in a boat he, for fear of what would be said. But a boaster still this one, a boaster still. It blows strong the wind from north.”
At The River – in which a grandfather, against the wishes of his wife, insists on a camping and fishing trip for eels. He passes away at the beach and implores his family not to weep for him. A story steeped in Maori mythology with shades of magical realism.
Transition – a family ponders whether to leave their ancestral home to seek a better future in the city.
What future on this little corner of land and, once enough to support many but now in these days merely a worry and a trouble. The ground dry and hard, and great round stones where once a river flowed. A great sadness comes, for this old one knows that soon these ones must go away from this place…. But nowhere for this old one in such a new place. Her place is here and so her daughter has a sadness on her.
Parade – a sad story in which a young Maori woman accepts her family’s invitation to return home and to participate in the town’s parade. She sees her people as clowns, parading for the tourists.
And the people’s reaction to the rest of us? The singing, the pois? I could see enjoyment on the upturned faces and yet it occurred to me again and again that many people enjoyed zoos. That’s how I felt. Animals in cages to be stared at.
If the debut collection of Waiariki and Other Stories is a prediction of the mature writer that Patricia Grace becomes, then I look forward to reading more of her works. I have a feeling that I’ve come upon a true gem of contemporary literature. Waiariki and Other Stories , which won the Hurbert Church Award for first book of fiction, is currently out of print. However, it is one of three collections in Grace’s Collected Stories. A highly recommended read.
Have you read any books by Patricia Grace or by other Maori writers? Your thoughts?