New Zealand: Chappy, by Patricia Grace

So, I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve been dipping in and out of the Read Around the World Book Club these last few months. I’m beginning to realise that there is a difference between stretching my reading boundaries/widening my knowledge of the world and forcing myself to read a book because I feel I ‘should’. Not that you have to read all the books in the book club – it is just a pressure I put on myself (no surprise there then). However, when I read the blurb for Chappy, I knew that this was a story I wanted to explore further:

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“Uprooted from his privileged European life and sent to New Zealand to sort himself out, twenty-one-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Māori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a remarkable love story between his Māori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing – and elusive – Chappy becomes.”

This is most definitely a character piece; the pace is very slow, fluid and gentle. I loved Grace’s style very much, but I also know some of the group found it frustrating and found it difficult to engage with.

Why this book spoke to me:

Daniel pieces himself together though discovering his family history, he finds his roots and purpose. He becomes a storyteller.  I think this is such a wonderful concept and one I very much identify with. I love how important traditions and ancestors are in this story:

“These are the moments when all time becomes present and you understand that you are merely a bead on an unbroken necklace which is without beginning or end.”

I love how connected to the land the characters are, especially Daniel’s uncle Akai:

“But not to worry, there’s singing in the mountains, laughter in the trees, dancing in the light of evening fires. There’s whispering in hearts and minds and shadows. That’s enough for me.”

The characters are just wonderful. Warmhearted, passionate, plain speaking, resilient Oriwia. Gentle, sweet, damaged and displaced Chappy. Quirky, nature loving, rooted, spirited Akai.

The importance Grace gives to storytelling, be Daniel’s own, his family’s or that of the Māori people.

The theme of community, which runs fiercely throughout. Everyone has value, everyone has a contribution to make. People take care of each other. People are genuinely interested in each other.

The exploration of what it means to be an immigrant is most poignant and is just as relevant today as it was in the time the book was set. The fear of the unknown, and consequently racism, causes such horrendous consequence – why are human beings not able to learn from past mistakes?

The portrayal of how the Māori people were treated in New Zealand in the 40s and 50s was incredibly thought provoking. I knew so little: the taking away of land, the everyday discrimination, the poverty, the segregation.

To finish, something I loved the most was how Daniel’s great grandfather defines belonging:

“Who he’s mountain? Who he’s river? Who he’s ancestors? Who he’s name? Who he is?”

 

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