Monday, July 4, 2011

Giddy-up With a Splash: Whale Rider

I listened to The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera because of the 48 Hour Reading Challenge.  I had picked out a few audio books because I wanted to be able to keep reading even if I had to drive anywhere.  As it turned out, I basically stayed home for the weekend except for one quick pickup, so I only got about fifteen minutes in.  At first my kids were listening in, but I spend a lot more time in the car than they do, so they fell behind.  By the time I got to the whales dying on the beach scene, I was fairly glad they had.  I'm not sure I could handle watching them listen to the death of the whales.

Usually I only listen to books I've already read; I dislike the lack of control I get from an audio book; the narrator doesn't speed up or slow down at my mental commands, which I do a lot when reading a book.  But I enjoyed this one, maybe because I'm a sucker for non-American accents, and I found the description of Maori life in transition enough to grab my attention even in the staccato rhythm of listening to a story on my mainly short jaunts across town.  Strangely, my favorite sections were the ones in Australia and New Guinea, which I guess makes sense given my single complaint.

The appendix said that the author wrote this book for his daughters, but there is a real dearth of female agency in the book.  Kahu doesn't make many decisions, just quietly tries to please her grandfather and quietly accepts his contempt for her as just.  Even her final moments of mounting the whale seem passive, as if she is following a script destiny laid for her.  I much preferred hearing about the narrator growing up, learning more about his traditions, going abroad to work and then returning home, with his compassionate but nonjudgmental view of the grandfather's unfair treatment of Kahu.  I've never seen the movie, but I see it's streaming on netflix so I guess I'll give it a try.

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