“It was good to have others to tell our own stories to, and to have them there sharing our land and our loves. Good had followed what was not good, on the circle of our days.” – Patricia Grace, Pōtiki
The acclaimed second novel by pioneering Māori writer Patricia Grace tells the story of a community on the brink of ruin. It counters this threat with the renewal of communal life. This renewal harkens back to older values, and is seen in the restoration of the wharenui, the meeting house. With its unique and significant carvings, it tells a story of ancestry and connection.
Set in Aotearoa New Zealand and written during the political upheavals of the 1980s, Pōtiki captures in a microcosm what became known as the Māori renaissance. This was a time of renewed pride in Māoritanga (Māori traditions and values), when language resurgence was emphasised, and traditional arts like weaving and carving were celebrated anew.
Pōtiki is a story of a family, told from the perspective of each very distinctive member, but it is also the story of a community threatened by development and loss. The novel traces their various approaches to protecting their land and culture, and how they find strength despite the ongoing challenges.
Just as important as the characters narrating the novel is the land itself. The nearby mountains and the sea are a constant source of sustenance, life and mystery. Pōtiki links ancient story with present life, creating meaning for all included in the circle of its telling. Its story circles around upon itself, forming the spiral that is significant in Māori culture and art, giving it a timeless quality, a sense that it could be happening now.
The figure of Pōtiki, the last born, the special child, has links with both Māori and Christian stories, suggesting ways forward that unite both traditions, offering models of reconciliation not only for this community, but for all of Aotearoa.
The Stories from the South Book Club will meet live at Dymocks Bookstore Rundle Mall on November 28, 2023, at 6.30-7.30pm for a discussion of Pōtiki.
This will be an in-person conversation between Mandy Treagus, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide and scholar of Pasifika and C19th literature, art and culture, and Maggie Tonkin, Senior Lecturer and scholar of women’s writing, theatre and dance studies. At the Book Club, participants will have the opportunity to contribute and ask questions.
Register here for this free public event. Copies of Pōtiki can be purchased at Dymocks Rundle Mall or sourced from libraries or electronically.
At the last Book Club in September, we read Taboo by Kim Scott. The author joined us for the evening at Dymocks and was in conversation with Stephen Muecke and Sam Cox. Scott shared and sung stories to the audience, who responded with questions and reflections on the book.
A Reading Guide for Pōtiki will be released soon. Follow InReview and the website’s Stories from the South page for further updates on the program.
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