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Reviewed by:
  • Tu: A Novel
  • Elizabeth Deloughrey
Tu: A Novel, by Patricia Grace. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8248-2927-1; 287 pages, author's notes. US$16.00.

A decade ago there were few Mäori novels that took place outside of Aotearoa New Zealand, yet recent years have witnessed a whole new geographical imagination in the literature. Witi Ihimaera's The Uncle's Story (2000), for instance, details the experience of Mäori in the Vietnam War, connecting diverse landscapes and histories across the Pacific through the literary frame of the wartime diary, particularly as it is circulated and interpreted by family and ultimately the audience of the novel. Patricia Grace's novel Tu deepens the historical frame by inscribing the legacy of Mäori involvement in both world wars. This literary turn to the transnational geographies of war may say much about our current historical moment of global militarization. Yet these novels cannot be reduced to contemporary political events, as [End Page 464] relevant as they may be. While there are obvious overlaps between our current-day militarism and the ways in which the colonial subjects of the European empires were utilized in theSecond World War, the frame of Patricia Grace's sixth novel suggests a family archeology as well as a cultural excavation of Mäori participation in national and international politics. Like Ihimaera's novel, the narrative ofTu is drawn from state archives, military reports, diaries, and family history. In its skillful telling, the novelweaves together letters, journal entries, and omniscient narration. The layering of multiple narrative genres here is a testimony to the complexity of the wartime subject as well as to itsultimate irrecoverability. Its deft handling of these materials and its invocation of such broad cultural landscapes earned the novel the Deutz Medal for Fiction as well as a Montana Book Award.

The name of the novel's protagonist, Tu, is not only a reference to the god of warfare (Tumatauenga) but also reflects the long legacy of Mäori participation in both world wars; our mid-twentieth century protagonist is named after the 28 (Mäori) Battalion that preceded him. As Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu, he is ancestrally linked to "the Many Fighting Men of Tumatauenga" (35), highlighting a continuity of masculine warriors as well as a cyclical pattern of sacrifice and renewal. Connecting both Mäori and Christian cosmologies, as she has in earlier novels like Potiki (1986), Grace describes her protagonist's second name as Bernard, the "patron saint oftravelers and mountain climbers" (35). In a space/time collapse between Aotearoa and the European Alps, theprotagonist Tu imagines himself somewhat destined to be stationed in the mountains of Italy with the Mäori Battalion. His two elder brothers, Rangi and Pita, whose names and sacrificial actions reiterate the Mäori and Christian symbology, are deeply distraught when their underage brother appears at the warfront. This foregrounds a fundamental tension between home and away that is reflected in narrative terms on a more local scale in their family's migration, over the previous decade, from a rural community to urban Wellington. The connection between national and international migration is neatly woven together, reiterating Grace's earlier concern in Cousins (1992), for instance, to locate the historical and genealogical nexus of Mäori culture in the rural sphere and connect this to a politicized urban space that makes the unification of diverse iwi (tribes) possible. In Tu, the shift from the rural to urban raises similar issues in terms of the modernization of New Zealand culture through global war, particularly how the expansion of women's waged labor reconfigures gender relations between husband and wife as well as brother and sister. (For instance, when they first migrate to Wellington, Pita disapproves of his sisters entering the industrial labor force.) Like the city, the warfront and the Mäori Battalion in particular provide the space in which connections may be established between men of diverse iwi, but Grace seems to question the long-term implications of a unity forged through empire, violence, and loss. For example, Tu's maritime voyage around the world to the warfront [End Page...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 464-466
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-27
Open Access
No
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