The Whale Rider – the other side of the world is not so far

The Whale RiderThe Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Whale Rider is another book that I found on the shelves of my local used bookstore. The cover mentioned something about a movie, so I figured I’d buy and get to it at some point, and then my boys and I could watch the film version.

It sat unread for quite a while, but then I urged us to consider it. I’m glad we did. It is rewarding, but it’s kind of a strange book to read to children. Partly this is because the language is difficult to unpack at times. Ihimaera writes in the language of the South Pacific. It is at times beautiful and easy, but it also at times quite difficult. I did my best to pronounce things the way that I have heard them pronounced in some of the movies I have seen.

Anyway, the boys did enjoy the story of baby Kahu and old man Koro. She grows to be a leader, a conduit to the old ways, even though she is female and the old man cannot reconcile himself to her being the one. But she is. She rides a whale!…I think.

I didn’t really know what to say to my kids about that part. It seemed very metaphorical. It is quite obviously based on an ancient myth about how people populated these remote islands.

But then I heard something that made me wonder about the possibility that it might be real. We certainly do have trained whales in amusement parks. So I didn’t really know what to say to my kids about that part. They got the metaphor, though.

There is a curious side story about the narrator, a young man, going to Australia and then Papua New Guinea. This was an interesting treatment on globalism and identity. I found that part of the story quite compelling and so I emphasized it to my kids in case they weren’t able to understand the more abstract parts of the book.

I recommend The Whale Rider because it is always good to expose oneself to different cultures. The story certainly has its charms.

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