Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104

Book Review: Singing Home the Whale, by Mandy Hager

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

Another wonderfully lyrical tale from one of New Zealand’s most skilled and under-rated cv_singing_home_the_whaleYoung Adult authors.

Last year, Mandy Hager captured my emotions with the powerful story of a teenage girl battling grief and depression, with the outstanding Dear Vincent. This year, she brings us this beautiful tale of a friendship between two different species, courage, loyalty and determination.

Will Jackson does not feel he fits in to the tiny community in the Marlborough Sounds. He is a city youth, hiding out from a brutal attack and the public humiliation of a YouTube video gone viral. Things change for him when a juvenile orca makes his way into the Sounds. Drawn to Will’s fine singing voice, he and the young dolphin strike up a friendship unlike any other, a friendship that transcends the borders of species. But not all are as thrilled by the prospect. The local salmon farmer, a cruel and vindictive man, resents the intrusion and will do anything to protect his captive stock.

The chapters are skillfully interwoven between two narrators − Will and the orca, named Min. Min’s voice is lyrical, melodious, rich in evocative language and charming use of wordplay and prose. Each chapter is heralded with a page of absolutely gorgeous lineart. Will’s story is a little more straightforward in prose, a young man with a strong heart that has been, if not broken, then badly dented. Hager captures the voice of the youth superbly as she takes him on this journey of friendship, dedication and personal growth.

This is definitely one of the stand-out novels I have read this year, for both its beautiful, rich language and the deep emotional − but never sentimental − power behind the adversity, the tragedy and the triumph.

Very few books have struck a chord in my heart like this one has.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Singing Home the Whale
by Mandy Hager
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775536574