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Witi Ihimaera was one of the first Maori novelists and achieved world-wide fame when this novella was adapted into a prize-winning film. Fittingly, it draws upon a Maori myth that he reworked for his daughters when they complained that boys were always the heroes of their stories.

The original whale rider, introduced in a nearly parenthetical opening, was the spear-carrying Kahutia Te Rangi, who a great whale delivered from Hawaii to the East coast of New Zealand where he founded his tribe in the town of Whangara. Before landing, he hurled one spear ashore, which in time would save his people.

As the modern story begins, a grandchild is being born to the son-less chief of the village, Koro Apirana, but he is crushed when he finds out the child is a girl. He repeatedly rejects Kahu as she grows up, no matter how much she loves him and how thoroughly she embraces the customs of the tribe. Even the interventions of his iron-willed and acid-tongued wife, Granny Flowers, can not move him, despite an impending crisis that may doom his people. Well, you know where that's headed, but we need not spoil it here. The story is carried by Kahu's charming precociousness and Granny's rants until we get to the mythic action of the climax.

The other story that unfolds alongside is less compelling, though perhaps an understandable feature of the novel. The narrator, Kahu's young uncle Rawiri, leaves the village for Australia and then Papua New Guinea, where he finds it easier to make a living, enjoys modern comforts and befriends a white roommate. But eventually he discovers that even this friend and his family view him with some racial disdain, so he returns to Whangara.

Rawiri is simply less interesting than Kahu and Granny, so this plotline only serves to distract us from the core story. But that core is delightful and makes the book a joy.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Sea Stories
Witi Ihimaera Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Witi Ihimaera
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Witi Ihimaera (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Whale Rider (2002) (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Ihimaera, Witi (Read NZ)
    -ENTRY: Witi Ihimaera: New Zealand author (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -AUTHOR PAGE: Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Books)
    -ENTRY: Witi Ihimaera (The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi)
    -ENTRY: Witi (Tame) Ihimaera Biography (
    -ENTRY: Ihimaera, Witi (Tame) (
    -ENTRY: Witi Ihimaera (NZ on Screen)
    -ESSAY: How I Write: Witi Ihimaera (Witi Ihimaera, Dec 5, 2017, NZ Listener)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Whale Rider (Grade Saver)
-AUDIO BOOK GROUP: The Whale Rider (BBC World Book Club)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Interview with Witi Ihimaera (National Library of NZ)
    -VIDEO: The Whale Rider - The story of the book by Witi Ihimaera (NZinGermany - NZdeutschland, Dec 27, 2013)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Witi Ihimaera | Life and Influences: NZ author Witi Ihimaera joins Sunday Morning with Wallace Chapman to chat about his life and influences in a wide-ranging interview discussing his life, literature, music, highs and lows. (Wallace Chapman, Jun 23, 2018, RNZ: Sunday Morning)
    -VIDEO: At Home With Penguin and Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Books NZ, Apr 23, 2020)
    -INTERVIEW: Witi Ihimaera explains how he overcame rape, self-harm to become esteemed New Zealand writer (John Campbell, SEP 2, TVNZ: One News)
    -INTERVIEW: By Way of Circularities: an interview with Witi Ihimaera (Brannavan Gnanalingam, 11/04/19, Sydney Review of Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Witi Ihimaera (Christchurch City Libraries)
    -ESSAY: Analysis of Witi Ihimaeras 'The Whale Rider' on the basis of Postcolonial Theory (NANCY REINHARDT, 2009, Grin)
    -ESSAY: Exclusion and Revolt in Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider (Irene Visser, Spring 2008, Commonwealth : Essays and Studies)
    -THESIS: Situating the cetacean: Science and st Situating the cetacean: Science and storytelling in Witi Ihimaer ytelling in Witi Ihimaera's The whale rider (Lee Elton Dionne, UC Santa Bernardino)
    -ESSAY: Indigenizing girl power: The Whale Rider, decolonization, and the project of remembering (Marnina Gonick, 8/05/2010, Feminist Media Studies)
    -ESSAY: Different styles of narration that infuse ‘The Whale Rider’ with life (Saturday Nation, October 14, 2017)
    -ARCHIVES: Witi Ihimaera (NZ Listener)
    -REVIEW: of The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Postcolonial Text)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Reading Malone)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Pen and Paper Justice)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (The Broke and the Bookish)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Lisa Hill, ANZ Lit Lovers)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Book Trail)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (K?hei de Silva, Makali'i)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Dovegrey Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Sleepless Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Forest of Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Alanna McFall)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Bob's Books)
    -REVIEW: of Whale Rider (Buried in Print)
    -REVIEW: of Sleeps Standing: Moet? by Witi Ihimaera with H?mi Kelly (Craig Ranapia, NZ Listener)
    -REVIEW: of The Parihaka Woman by Witi Ihimaera (John McCrystal, NZ Listener)
    -REVIEW: of The Thrill of Falling by Witi Ihimaera (Craig Ranapia, NZ Listener)
    -REVIEW: of Native Son by Witi Ihimaera (David Hill, NZ Listener)

    -FILM SITE: Whale Rider (South Pacific Pictures)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Witi Ihimaera (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Whale Rider (2002) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Niki Caro (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Whale Rider
    -STUDY GUIDE: Whale Rider (Film Education)
    -INTERVIEW: Girl Power: New Zealand Writer/Director Niki Caro Talks About “Whale Rider” (Ryan Mottesheard, 6/06/03, IndieWire)
    -ARTICLE: The return of the native: While New Zealand's film industry has blossomed in recent years, Maori film-making has stagnated. David Fickling reports on the cultural factors at work, and the hopes being pinned on a new film, Whale Rider (David Fickling, 10 Jul 2003, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Whale Rider (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Whale Rider (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Elvis Mitchell, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Esther Figueroa, The Contemporary Pacific)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Sierra Magazine)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Antonio D. Sison, National Catholic Reporter)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Harry Zheng, Medium)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Carole McDonnell, Christian Answers)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (SBS)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Ed Gonzalez, Slant)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Tao Yue, MIT: The Tech)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Jeff Vice, Deseret News)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Sydney Morning Herald)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Bruce Paterson, Cinephilia)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Dennis Harvey, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Lark Aldrin-Clement, Emanuel-Levy Cinema)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Brad Cook, Flickering Myth)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Jana Segal, Reel Inspiration)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (John Braddock, World Socialist Web Site)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Cynthia Fuchs, Pop Matters)
    -FILM REVIEW: Whale Rider (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -THEATER REVIEW: THE WHALE RIDER By WITI IHIMAERA: Adapted for the stage by TIM BRAY (Nik Smythe, Theatreview)

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