Band of angels

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Robson Books, Mar 28, 2005 - Fiction - 225 pages
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About the author (2005)

Born in the countryside of New Zealand into a Maori family of Mormons, Witi Ihimaera is not only a major writer but a diplomat as well. He began his career in the foreign service in 1976 and served, among other posts, as New Zealand consul-general in New York. After completing a B.A. in English, Ihimaera worked as a journalist in New Zealand and, describing himself as a "compulsive storyteller," started writing fiction. In 1982 he coedited an anthology of Maori writing, Into the World of Light, and continues to be a champion of literature in English by Maoris. In retrospect, Ihimaera describes his first collection of short stories, Pounamu (1972), as Songs of Innocence; this subtitle applies as well to his two early novels, Tangi (1973) and Whanau (1974). These three books are filled with romantic images of a childhood spent in the security of the extended Maori family, offering what Ihimaera calls a "landscape of the heart." But in 1975 winds of change swept the Maori community as political awareness grew. Reflecting that change, the collection of Ihimaera's short fiction that appeared in 1976, The New Net Goes Fishing, moves out of the earlier work's Eden into a violent and disruptive world. Dear Miss Mansfield (1989), a group of stories about Maori life, uses the postmodernist technique of rewriting or responding to an earlier text---in this instance, some of the short fiction by New Zealand's most famous writer, Katherine Mansfield. Described as a contentious work, The Matriarch (1986) marks a dramatic departure from Ihimaera's earlier novels. Here the sweet memories of childhood have been discarded for a confrontational view of the Maori role in modern society. To a degree, a survey of Ihimaera's work is also a survey of the changing attitudes in New Zealand society. On the part of both the Maoris (indigenous New Zealanders) and the Pakehas (New Zealanders of European descent), they at last confront openly and honestly the legacy of imperialism to which they are heirs.

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