I was talking with colleagues yesterday, when the question came up, “What is your favourite book?” The responses varied but I thought it was really interesting that four of us named titles by Witi Ihimaera.
I read his work Tangi for the first time when I was in the third form at High School. I found it incredibly moving and quite empowering. In Tangi, Ihimaera explores death, grief, loss, love and life through the eyes of a son whose father has just passed away. The story moves effectively between memories and the present to draw the reader into Tama’s personal experience. I think if I had to explain it now, I wonder if some of my initial reaction to how moving I found it wasn’t just based on the beauty of the story but also because I had wondrously discovered this man who was writing and telling stories about people like me. The characters, the language used, the way people spoke and the contexts and events were all things I understood or could relate to.
Once I had discovered him, I think I went on an Ihimaera rampage, devouring anything else written by him that I could get my hands on. I have a vivid recollection of my mother taking me to an event at the Dunedin Public Library where I got to hear him speak and he signed my very own copy of The Whale Rider (which I still have).
I recently reread Tangi and I found it just as evocative and moving the second time around. Actually if I’m honest, I was that weird lady reading my book on the bus while having a sniffle and trying to surreptitiously wipe away tears on my way to work. Rather than be embarrassed by this, I’ve decided to embrace the idea that the book must be really good if it can have you so engrossed that you cry while on public transport.
If you have read Tangi and enjoyed it, you might like to try The Rope of Man. This book picks up the events from Tangi and continues the story twenty years later. Pounamu Pounamu (a collection of short stories), and The Matriarch were both identified by colleagues yesterday as being their Ihimaera favourites, and another title of his that I enjoyed was The Dream Swimmer. I know his newest work, The Thrill of Falling has just come out but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
Does anybody else have an all-time Ihimaera favourite? Or have you read anything recently that you found so good it moved you to tears? Feel free to share.