Auē, by Becky Manawatu.
Auē is Maori for sorrow or woe, and it concerns the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in this superb novel – a description that doesn’t apply to material things, but to the most important need of all: the need to love and belong together, a need that dominates everyone’s life, and the vengeance wreaked by those who lack it. Or deserve it.
Each chapter lets a different character tell the story, which starts with the fatal accident suffered by seventeen-year-old Taukiri’s foster parents. Completely unmanned by the tragedy, he delivers his eight-year-old brother to his Aunty Kat and his Uncle Stu; they have a farm in Kaikoura; it should be a neat place for Arama to live – you know, cows, sheep etc. He’ll be right in time, Taukiri tells himself, while he goes to Wellington to search for his Hoe-Bag birth mother. Yeah, right. As if! Nope – Tauk’s going to get a job, find a place to live and eventually the great gaping hole in his soul will close over and he will be healed.
In a perfect world.
Real life doesn’t turn out so conveniently: Tauk ends up busking (he’s a great guitarist, a natural, like his dad) and it’s not long before he chums up with Elliot, another busker who has access to all kinds of memory-deadening ‘medications’: fortunately, Elliot has a sister who looks out for them both so he hasn’t hit rock-bottom – yet.
Meantime, Arama isn’t happy in his new home. Aunty Kat is not happy either, because Uncle Stu is a bully and gives her black eyes and bruises whenever he feels like it; he even smashed Arama’s All–Blacks lunchbox just because it was there. He’s a W.A.N.K.E.R. (Sorry mum, for the swear.) If it weren’t for Beth, who lives on the neighbouring farm with her Dad Tom Aiken and dog Lupo, he would be very sad indeed. Oh Tauk, can’t you come and get me? Where do I belong? Who do I belong to now?
The story is also traced of Taukiri’s ‘hoebag’ birth mother Jade and his fisherman father Toko. Jade was born into a gang and has never been able to escape – until she met Toko, who rescued her from The House where she was born and degraded; he is her saviour – her everything: she could never live without him. Until the gang comes looking, and she finds that she has to.
This is a singular work, a poignant and beautiful story that should rightly become a kiwi classic. Ka pai, Ms Manawatu! SEVEN STARS!