When you’re a college student in today’s time with a job and other extracurricular activities to juggle as well, it’s hard to find time to simply sit down and read for a while. Therefore, it’s been a regretful five months since I last blogged about a book of any kind. However, having had these past three weeks off for Winter Break, it’s really allowed me to get back into that; reading for the sake of reading.
In my case, I’ve been able to read a book I’ve never read before, by one of my all-time favorite writers…
If you’re scratching your head at this time, not having a clue as to who I’m talking about, no worries. He’s not exactly a household-named writer like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. To give a little bit of background information, Ihimaera is one of the most prominent writers of New Zealand and the first Maori writer to publish both a novel and a book of short stories. He’s known for his stories to incorporate Maori culture in modern-day New Zealand and on the problems that are going on in contemporary Maori society.
If anything, most Western audiences may be familiar with his internationally successful novel “The Whale Rider,” which eventually served as the foundation behind the successful 2002 film of the same name. I read a comment online prior to reading this newer book by Ihimaera that I find very well-said: If you liked “The Whale Rider,” then you’re really going to enjoy “The Uncle’s Story.”
First published in New Zealand in 2000, “The Uncle’s Story” follows a young man named Michael Mahana. Followed by being shunned by his parents upon coming out to them, his Auntie Pat uncovers a family secret to him; an uncle he never knew he had; his Vietnam War vet Uncle Sam. With this newly gained knowledge along with Uncle Sam’s diary as an emotionally-depth guide, Michael ventures out to discover who his uncle was, what happened to him and what he can gain from his life as he keeps going forward with his.
I’m not sure if there’s anything bad to say about this book. Aside from the fact that I was exposed to more sexual content and violence than I’m used to, it was an incredibly good read. “The Uncle’s Story” is one of those books that it’s nearly impossible to put down.
For one, the characters are very well-developed; from the mix of emotions Michael feels at once, to the heaviness Auntie Pat feels from caring this family secret around for three decades. Even the snarky humor that emerged from other characters at the utmost appropriate times felt as organic as one could imagine.
The Maori traditions and cultural aspects incorporated into this novel, like several of Ihimaera’s other novels, proved to be effective. From the powerful karangas (calls), to the significance of Sam’s greenstone pendant, the burst of pride from the indigenous people of New Zealand cannot help but be contagiously felt at heart.
Last but not least, there is also the numerous themes and lessons that are brought about in this approximately 370-page novel; standing up for what you believe in, being true to yourself and, similar to “The Whale Rider,” challenging the ways of the past at the dawn of the future.
Even though it was published 13 years ago, at a time when social media didn’t exist, gay rights advocacy wasn’t as prominent and the events of 9/11 hadn’t even happened, I still find it incredible how relevant the events in the book are to what we as American citizens are going through right now. It is 2013 and gay rights are still being dealt with in our country. 41 out of 50 states, ours being one of them, still haven’t legalized same-sex marriage and there are still kids committing suicide over being bullied by their sexuality. Michael puts it right on how homosexuality needs to end and to accept people for who they are.
For that matter, despite it taking place in a country that is 21 hours ahead of us, “The Uncle’s Story” is a book that a lot of people should read. It’s a powerful story with twists, turns and revelations that are unpredictable.
Warning: Due to sexual content, violence and graphic descriptions of war-bound Vietnam, the author of this blog advises not to have “The Uncle’s Story” within reach of kids under the age of 16.