Thursday 1 December 2011

The real thing

Finished reading Patricia Grace's Potiki last week. I've read several of her books, but this is the first time that her writing touched me: even though there were things I didn't understand, magical events, people with special powers, it showed me a Maori point of view, and some of it at least I understood.

I met Patricia Grace a few years ago, not that she would remember me. I was a member of a group of manuhiri arriving at her marae, and she was in the line of those who welcomed us in the traditional way, nose to nose, breath mingling with breath. We were students and the teacher who brought us to meet Patricia was - is - a respected Maori writer, whose mana opened the doors to this other world. (Maybe I'm wrong and they would have opened anyway - I am remembering how worn-out the whanau were by all the visitors they received. But that's a different story.)

When I met Patricia Grace, I didn't know it was her, but I became aware of her because her blue eyes are so penetrating, like suddenly being drenched in water, or in the sudden beam of a powerful searchlight - shocking, all the more so for being unexpected. She doesn't  peer or scrutinise in a searching way; on the contrary, she is reserved, quiet, modest. But her gaze seemed all-seeing.

I felt wanting. That is what I remember: she was unimpressed and I would have liked to say something, do something to impress her. That did not happen, quite the contrary, I remember I was unhappy about something on the marae, and it seemed to me she disapproved.

I have read some of her previous books and they left no trace in me, until this one, this Potiki.

So this is the book that made her famous: now I understand why people respect her. Here is wonderful writing - a personal truth, in the framework of historical events and characters which one grows to understand and feel with deeply.

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