Friday, January 13, 2012

Why The Bone People?

A dozen years ago, while I was still living in Hawai'i, I was chatting with a friend of mine as we were cleaning up the lanai (patio) at the preschool both of our children attended. We also belonged to the same book group, and as we cleared the tables, Catherine and I talked about the book that was that month's selection-- Kiana Davenport's  "Shark Dialogues", which we both loved. We started discussing other Polynesian writers, and as my friend was from New Zealand, I mentioned that I had always wanted to read Keri Hulme's "The Bone People." She wrinkled her nose.

"Oh, God. Why?" she asked.

I didn't have a chance to answer, as it was time to call the kids in for story time. I kept meaning to ask her about her objections to this famous book, but I never got around to it. Was it too cliche of a New Zealand choice? Too Booker-ish? Too willfully obscure and poetical? Was the subject matter too distasteful? I never found out.

I decided when making up my 52 book challenge list that one of my books from the Antipodes should have a non-Western viewpoint. I thought hard--and am still thinking hard--about having my Australian book be from an Aborigine perspective, but I've actually read a fair amount of young adult and children's novels that fit into that category. I have never, however, read a book from a Maori writer. I did the initial training at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, but although that museum, which is the center of  study for the "Polynesian Triangle" (Tahiti, Hawai'i and New Zealand being the three points) does have some Maori objects, the strength of its collection lies in its Hawaiian artifacts:

Those three statues of the great god Ku (god of war, governance, deep-sea fishing, etc) are the only three remaining after the destruction of the idols in 1819, which was carried out by Kamehameha II and Ka'ahumanu, the old king's favorite wife. Two of these statues are normally in the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and the British Museum in London.

So since I don't know much about Maori culture I figure this is my chance. I started this book, actually,  a  few months before my last move, and I stopped after the first chapter; I was just too distracted. I remember something about an artist alone in her tower...

Anyway,  Catherine, this book is for you.


  1. I have The Bone People on my list as well. I must be following you - first Antarctic, and then New Zealand. Likely, you'll be far away when I get there.

  2. I'll let you know....I am a bit apprehensive as my friend's reaction remains clear in my memory.

  3. I had it on my list for a while, and there are always seem to be copies available for swapping. I take that as a bad sign, actually. The reviews seem to be mixed. I'm sure I'll read it eventually, and I'm eager to see what you think, but I ended up going a different direction (a short story anthology called "One Whale, Singing.")