“The Whale Rider” by Witi Ihimaera

The Whale Rider(Author: Witi Ihimaera) + (Year: 1987) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: New Zealand)


Review:

In all honesty, this was a peculiar little book. I both liked it, and didn’t like it. I’m saying this in the sense that while I was reading The Whale Rider, I wasn’t bored out of my mind. However, at the same time, I can’t say that I actually enjoyed myself.

So in a way, this book just was. 

The story was interesting in its entirety and the fairytale quality of the entire novel. There are two stories between which the narration shifts: “current times” and the birth of Kahu, a little girl who possesses the spirit of Maori mythology, but is not loved by her grandfather, who, as the “chief” of the community, wants a grandson and is always displeased with little Kahu; and the stories from the Maori legends about the whale riders, and the pain of a whale which was ridden by the last whale rider.

As you can imagine, Kahu’s story is very endearing and cute, and the whales’ story has more of a surreal quality. However, this would be an oversimplification of how exactly wild this book gets at times. It’s a wildness in the method and narration, rather than one in the actual events, but ultimately leads to a very fairytale-ish world of collision between myth and reality.

This, however, can also be confusing, as I wasn’t sure how I’m supposed to take the story: utter fiction? Mythological reality? Fairtytale? My confusion lead me to that awkward moment which one experiences when they meet someone who seems to be insane and one doesn’t know if that person is joking/sarcastic, or really mentally unstable. (In all fairness, I’m in this situation more often than I should.)

The other thing which a story like this heavily influences is the depth of the characters. Mythological characters are rarely very deep and well-developed, so in a book which is unsure about its allegiances with reality, expectedly, the characters were not really three intentional.

Lastly, while I enjoyed the stories about Kahu, I was rather bored with the whale narration and the general repetitiveness of the book. Every encounter with Kahu and her grandfather, or the two of her grandparents just ended up being the exact same chapter over and over again, down to the actual expressions.

On the positive side, I learned very interesting things, albeit minor ones, about the Maori culture and the belief system they have, to a degree. So, while this was not the most successful encounter, it was definitely not without virtues.

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