Linda Reviews: Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke

Published: 28-Jul-2020

Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke by Tina Makereti. All we need to know is that Linda said "I really did enjoy this book." Fortunately - she also said more! Read below for an in-depth review of this important New Zealand story.

Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke

The story begins: ‘The hour is late. The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homeward I meet. But first I must finish my story for you. My future, my descendant, my mokopuna. Listen”. The not yet seventeen year old James tells the story of his life.

It’s the mid-1800’s and young James Pōneke, son of a chief, is orphaned. He uses wits and intelligence to survive tribal wars and English colonists in his native land. While living in a missionary, he receives and excels at an English education and is befriended by an English artist. The artist, as he is known, invites James to travel with him to London to continue his education and in exchange be exhibited in a curiosity museum. James is excited at this opportunity to further his own education and to educate others in his culture. In London, he is soon disillusioned by the ignorance of the audience as they do nothing more than laugh and stare. James’s observations of his audience and life in London teaches him more than these people learn from him.

Tina Makereti’s wonderful descriptive writing cleverly weaves this tale in many layers. Spirituality, prejudices; colonialism, sexual identity and more flow through this story.

I became totally absorbed in this book and would highly recommend it for your next read.

The origins and inspiration for this story can be found in a newspaper article from 1847.