Saturday, August 21, 2010

26. "Potiki" by Patricia Grace

Grace, Patricia. Potiki. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1986. Print.
185 pages
Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

Patricia Grace is a Maori writer. She has written novels, children’s books and short stories. She is one of the first and most notable of Maori women writers. Potiki is her second published work.

Potiki is about a Maori family and their struggle to preserve their culture, land, and way of life. They are threatened by impeding businessmen who want to take their land and build a resort on it. These business men will stop at nothing to get what they want.

The novel describes time as being a spiral rather than a straight line. Each chapter is written in a spiral pattern. For example, in a chapter titled “Roimata” the narrator begins by speaking about children and their war games: “And games are stories too, not just swallowers of time, or buds without fruit. Games, as played-out stories, also define our lives—but I did not understand the children’s war games. I could not tell what their war games were a reflection of” (Grace 44). The narrator then goes on to describe war games from when she was a child and then spirals back out to the children’s war games. At first this seemed repetitive until I understood what Grace was doing. I think it is a genius form to use to illustrate the way the Maori families understand time.

Each chapter is told from a specific character’s point of view but the point of view shifts. Chapters titled “Toko” and “Roimata” are told from first person point of view while chapters titled “Hemi” and “Mary” are told from third person limited point of view. For me, this kept the novel fresh and interesting. I was allowed to understand the characters and the family from many angles and points of view. Doing this deepened my connection to the whole group instead of just one individual. This is another running theme in the novel—a focus on community, not individuality.

When the family’s land floods because of the construction work the colonizers do, I felt a connection to the text. As an Iowan, I’m no stranger to floods and the floods that have been happening in Iowa the past few years are, as certain scientists argue, the result of poor land management. Iowa’s natural prairie grasses have been replaced by farm crops and the land can no longer absorb the rainfall it was once able to. Similarly, when the construction workers blast holes through the hills in Potiki, the land no longer has a natural barrier to the waters and the village is flooded.

I love this text. It is rich, and deep, and it was the first book in several years that actually moved me to tears.

5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP

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