kiwi as

Something dawned on me while reading Auē, Becky Manawatu’s debut novel. The first paragraph drew me in immediately. Ārama speaking: “Taukiri and I drove here in Tom Aiken’s truck. We borrowed it to move all my stuff. Tom Aiken helped. Uncle Stu didn’t. This was my home now.” Straight into the unique flavours of our Kiwi context. That felt surprisingly so familiar and made me actually feel quite happy.

Just before opening Auē,I had finished Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballentyne. It is a lesser known book, but now considered a classic (and therefore reprinted). Ballentyne shows his craft in his incredibly clever depiction of long-ago-yet-still-recognisable New Zealand prepubescent summer experiences. A recent review of the book and its curious title had piqued my interest because the book was published in … 1968!

It then hit me: after more than 20 years in New Zealand, I ‘get it’, I understand deeply, with head and heart, the kiwi vernacular, how people (used to) live, young people’s mischief, children’s frightened experiences of domestic violence, backgrounds of poverty and misery, long cheerful summers, whānau relationships.

When I opened Auē, recommended by friends and the best-selling NZ book in 2020 and 2021, it felt like a home coming. In spite of the story foreboding tragedy (I am only 80 pages in), it is a magnetic page turner. Perhaps a great storm could envelop my house this afternoon so I can disappear in Ārama and Taukiri’s story of grief, adaptation and survival after their parents’ tragic, gang-related deaths. Fiction and reality sometimes cross in disturbing ways.