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Once Were Warriors


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An astonishing, moving portrait of a Maori family in total crisis

About the Author

Alan Duff was born in 1950 and lives with his wife and four children in Havelock North, New Zealand. He has published six novels, most notably, the Once Were Warriors trilogy; a novella, State Ward; and six works of non-fiction, including the controversial Maori: The Crisis and the Challenge. Once Were Warriors won the PEN Best First Book for Fiction Award and was made into an internationally acclaimed film for which Alan Duff wrote the original screenplay.


Part of Hawaii's TalanoaContemporary Pacific Literature imprint, this first novel won the 1991 PEN Best First Book Award amid controversy over Duff's perceived condemnation of Maori society as largely responsible for the hopelessness plaguing its communities. In a Maori ghetto of urban New Zealand, Jake and Beth Heke battle entrenched poverty, racism and other ills that overwhelm their traditional Maori culture. With a gritty, realistic eye, Duff portrays Jake and Beth, who because of alcoholism, abuse and poverty can provide little protection against the gangs, drugs and violence that menace their children. Most vulnerable is Grace who dreams of escape into the Pakeha (white) world and whose brutal rape triggers the downward spiral of events. Duff's choppy sentences, repeated phrasing and use of Maori slang may require some adjustment for American readers, but ultimately his staccato prose style is ideally suited to a world of not-so-quiet desperation. Regardless of one's position on the controversy, the half Pakeha /half Maori Duff provides a compelling and insightful glimpse into the overwhelming struggles faced by the disenfranchised poor of any urban society--including America's own inner cities. (July)

The Maoris in Pine Block, New Zealand, have lives filled with frustration, alcohol, and violence. Why? It had ``sumpthin to do with race, with being a Maori and so being a bit on the wild side when you compared with the other race, the ones running the show.'' The Maoris envy the pakehas (whites) for their wealth and stately homes but take no positive steps to improve their lot. Beth Heke is an abused wife, mother of six, and member of the broken Maori tribe. Her unemployed husband, Jake, is ``the Big man with the big rep and the even bigger mitts [who] takes pride in being a man of violence, savoring other men's deference to him as their physicalbetter.'' When an unspeakable tragedy strikes the Heke family, Beth transcends her personal hell to find a mission in life. Written in broken dialect and sprinkled liberally with coarse language, this book allows readers to experience the raw reality of this society. Powerful but unsettling.-Kimberly G. Allen, MCI Corporate Information Resources Ctr., Washington, D.C.

"A searing look at the urban subculture of New Zealand's native people" * Toronto Globe and Mail *
"A starkly realistic important, as frank, as powerful a book as [Alice Walker's The Color Purple] was for Americans" * Dominion (New Zealand) *

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