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Once Were Warriors Is Alan Duff S Harrowing Vision Of His Country S Indigenous People Two Hundred Years After The English Conquest In Prose That Is Both Raw And Compelling, It Tells The Story Of Beth Heke, A Maori Woman Struggling To Keep Her Family From Falling Apart, Despite The Squalor And Violence Of The Housing Projects In Which They Live Conveying Both The Rich Textures Of Maori Tradition And The Wounds Left By Its Absence, Once Were Warriors Is A Masterpiece Of Unblinking Realism, Irresistible Energy, And Great Sorrow This book was severely disturbing to me When the movie came out and was instantly pinned with awards I was quite sceptical as movies never really quite live up to the books Seeing this book on screen disturbed me eventhan the book This is the rawest of raw written account on family violence and suicide that I have ever read and watched in my life Bravo for both versions. This started out a book review, but it s also a bit of a personal essay, and it s not all pretty And this is really long, consider yourselves warned I thought about doing the 30 day book challenge, but there s always this one question in those kinds of things that make me pause This time it was A book that reminds you of home And this book and the devastatingly good movie made from it are always the first thing that springs to mind.Ironically the movie came up in a class this week Cultural Studies class , and everyone turned to me as if to say It s really overdramatised right And I had to tell them no, it s not So I got stuck writing a paper on it, go me And I can t, I just can t be academic and objective, because it hurts like a sonuvabitch So I m writing it out, in hopes that when I ve spilled my soul out here, I won t have any left and I can write that damn paper.If you don t know it, go watch this movie trailer, under 2 minutes Once Were Warriors TrailerNow I m not writing this to make anyone feel bad, just that all of us didn t grow up happy, or feeling loved, and home for me is a four letter word I left when I was 15, not entirely voluntarily, but not entirely unhappily to be out of it either I haven t spoken to most of my family in 15 years, and now that my grandparents are gone, I don t really have any reason to ever speak to any of them again.So let s see, why does it remind me of home Native minority poor, encouraged to urbanise and integrate into white society, but lacking the culture or skills to understand how to do so Check Institutionalised poverty Check Kids sitting in the car in the pub carpark with a bag of chips and a coke, if they re lucky, while mum and dad are in the pub drinking Check Preteen kids cleaning the house of broken beer bottles before school the next morning, after getting no sleep because the party spilled over to the house after the pub closed Check Kids sleeping under bridges, huffing superglue, because nobody gives a damn or takes them home, and oh well they re brown kids anyway Check Violence as a part of daily life problems are solved with fists Check A complete disconnect from the kids own culture, because the above mentioned urbanization Check For background, Maori make up about 15% of the population of NZ, and are economically doing pretty well right now But this book is set before that happened, before the resurgence in culture and language and self sovereignty Back when we were being encouraged to integrate and assimilate and self hate and lots of other things ending in ate The title alludes to the fact that once upon a time, Maori were warriors, strong, independent, self sufficient and proud But isolated in cities, doing unskilled labour, and drinking away their wages, urban Maori in the 70 s and 80 s had very little to be proud of The book is actually set in the 50 s, but it s pretty timeless The movie is set in the 80 s.The plot Well, we have Beth Heke, who grew up in a quite different environment, in one of the few Maori settlements that retained it s integrity and connection to the culture but gave it up for a city boy, Jake And Jake the Muss short for muscles is handsome and charming, and he took her away to the city and they had fine children, but he s a mean mean drunk, and with no hope and nothing really to look forward to, he drinks a lot And to escape the pain, so does Beth.The kids areor less dragging themselves up, and not doing a spectacular job of it The eldest, Nig, is 18 and joins a gang, just seeking to belong somewhere because he sure doesn t belong at home, and the next oldest is continuously being caught at petty crime, 12 year old Grace is struggling to still see the beauty of the world, with her battered notebook of stories and drawings, many based on Maori legends, and stuck with being a mother figure to the youngest ones Two things happen that catalyse things for this damaged family The story opens with the second oldest son arrested once too many times, and taken away to the foster care, in the hands of an old warrior who still remembers what that means Now even Beth can t continue to pretend that her family isn t broken Especially when the reason she can t be there to defend him and ask for him to allowed to come home, is because she can barely stand from the beating she got the night before.And she tries, she really tries to fix it, but some things just can t be fixed And so she falls back into the same patterns, the drinking and living with violence, until it all comes to a head in a tragedy that wasor less inevitable Because some people can survive horrible things happening to them, and some can t, especially when they are young and alone and sensitive.And I ll tell you now, there is a happy ending, but not in the and everyone lived their wildest dreams forever after sense, butin a rage, rage against the dying of the light sense Beth finds strength and reconnects with her true self, and her family and her culture, and finally does fix things, but it s too late for at least one of the children, and it s far far too late for Jake, who is just too damaged to save But Beth finally stops going gentle into anyone s night and takes her life and her children s into her own hands, and you get a sense that maybe the light isn t dying after all, it s just the dark before a dawn.Thing is, I could have been Beth Heke My mother pretty much was And I could have been Grace, except I was luckier than her And when people say oh you re from New Zealand, it s so beautiful there, how could you ever leave , I want to hand them a copy of this book and say this is why Except I don t, because they saw Lord of the Rings and all that spectacular scenery and all the happy brown people in the tourist ads, and they just don t want to hear it And yes, I know things have changed, and a lot, but there s things you can t forgive, and places that even thinking about going to are painful, so I smile and nod and say yes, it s very beautiful I mean look at this picture I used to live here, for the last couple of years before I left NZ, my old house is just off the left of the picture People see these pictures and just think ahh, heavenly and there s so muchto it than that.TaurikuraIf you read this far, you re probably thinking you don t want to read this book, but really, it s good There s a reason it s a NZ classic But it s bleak, and violent and angry, and well Maybe you should get the movie It s not a fun read, and I doubt anyone who ever read it said they loved it the way you can love something that makes you happy But if you think NZ is all sunshine and hobbits, this will give you a very different view Warning though, there is some serious violence including really don t click this if you are sensitive view spoiler an underage rape, and a suicide hide spoiler Well That was as expected a full on read Once Were Warriors is a critically important, confronting story of the colonial legacy of disenfranchisement, victimisation, cultural dislocation, poverty and violence in New Zealand This novel is an uncompromising portrait of the issues in New Zealand society that are most difficult for us to knowledge, and even harder still to begin to mend Although almost 20 years old, sadly, this story hasn t dated nearly as much as we d like to imagine it is It is a story about what it s like to live a really hard life, and how difficult it is to escape a cycle of poverty, violence and neglect, what it is like to be an outsider in your own land, and the importance of our history I was immensely moved by this. I read this book as part of my self proclaimed New Zealand November It was in a pile loaned by a professor who worked for years in Australia.This was a very difficult read for several reasons One is the violence it is set in the middle of the 20th century, in urban New Zealand, where people descended from native New Zealanders former warriors are now marginalized and living in poverty This leads to the usual issues of alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, unsupervised children, death, suicide, gangs It centers around a couple Jake and Beth, and their children It is graphic, it is unrelenting, it is harsh But from what I understand of that period, accurate If you think of New Zealand in rolling green hills and hobbitses, even just taking a look at the trailer for the movie version should set you right The second reason this is difficult to read is that it alternates between 3 4 characters the parents, and 1 2 children As a reader I didn t want to be in any of their heads The father is a drunk and abusive, violent and feared The mother is abused but turns her victimization into neglect of her children At the start of the novel one of her sons is removed from her home The daughter deals with trying to care for herself and her siblings, while enduring sexual assault, resorting to huffing, etc The prose is dense yet meandering, very much inside the characters heads.From what I understand, while not everything is perfect these days in New Zealand, some effort has gone into raising the standards of the Maori people within the country although I read a play set in 2000 that expressed disbelief that tourists would hitchhike, believing it to be safe Maori culture has been adopted appropriated it s hard to know where that line is from the outside by everything from rugby to the military At least in honoring the culture of warriors, perhaps that pulls them from the margins I m not certain But I felt this book raises many questions like that and is worth a read.