“Like me, the Bohemian didn’t grow up speaking English. He tells me that when he arrived here, ten or so years ago, he didn’t know a word.
‘I don’t talk too much English,’ he says. ‘Not then, not now.’
I don’t ask him why. I don’t need to ask.
English is our weapon, hidden deep within the fold of our tātua. We reveal it only when we need to, because a surprise attack is often best.”
Auckland, New Zealand. June 1886. The gold rush is over, and the stock market has crashed. The strange disturbances on the lake are seen as another bad omen.
Gottfried Lindauer, the Bohemian painter, is about to sail to England. He’s just begun work on a painting of the Ngati Wai rangatira Paratene Te Manu when into his studio walks Paratene himself. Hearing of Lindauer’s planned trip to England reminds Paratene of his own journey there in 1863 with a party of Northern rangatira.
Over the next three days, as he sits for Lindauer, Paratene retreats deeper and deeper into the past, from the triumphant meetings with royalty and aristocracy to the disintegration of the trip into estrangement, poverty, and mistrust.
Based on a true story.
“An extraordinary literary achievement and probably the best of recent New Zealand historical novels.”
– Nicholas Reid, New Zealand Books
“Morris’ research is both thorough and thoughtful … With its light, often wry tone, much of the story-telling is amusing, albeit desperately poignant.”
– New Zealand Herald
“[An] adroitly told historical novel … Paratene old, forgetful but wise and generous in his appraisals is our lens, and he’s a triumph of characterisation, his voice genial and flawlessly authentic.”
– John McCrystal, New Zealand Listener
“This is an intriguing and engrossing novel that vividly brings to life colonial New Zealand and Victorian England through the eyes of a Ngāti Wai rangatira. Paula Morris has done an extraordinary job in capturing the life of her tupuna, Paratene Te Manu, and gives him a voice that is at once authentic and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to all New Zealanders.”
– Carol Hirschfeld
Paula Morris reads an excerpt from Rangatira (starts at 22:30), Frankfurt Book Fair 2012