Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Year Of Oceania Book Note: "Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All"

Okay, granted, the book is worth picking up for the title alone...

Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story could be described as an anthropological memoir. Author Christina Thompson, a Caucasian woman from Boston, tells the story of how she met and married a Maori man named Seven, interweaving their personal history with the tumultuous history of the Europeans' interaction with indigenous New Zealanders. (You'll be relieved to hear that the title refers to the latter topic--and even then is a probable misquote).

Thompson, an academic by trade, has done her research. The book is at its best when she's detailing the historical side of murder, misunderstanding, tragedy and conquest. Compared to the florid historical details, her own story is surprisingly bloodless. In an author's note at the beginning, she explains that she changed details to protect the anonymity of her in-laws. Thompson fairly points out that her husband's family confided in her as a relative and not as a researcher for a potential book. While she does pepper her narrative with some scattered culture-shock observations, it seemed to me that she approached her own story with a certain restraint. When she told how she and Seven eloped, I was surprised, since I'd no idea at that point that they were even romantically involved!

Thompson seems more comfortable with disclosure when she talks about her three sons and the mixed heritage they share. She also shares some of her own family history, which will resonate with those members of the Reinhardt community who participated in last year's "Year Of" theme. She feels guilt that her family prospered at the expense of an indigenous people, while her husband's people suffered at the hands of colonial interests.

The book is a quick read (I finished it in one sitting), and it packs an impressive amount of historical fact and perspective in 253 pages. I recommend it to anyone who wants a quick education about the Maori people and the European colonization of New Zealand.

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