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Kōhine by Colleen Maria Lenihan

Tokyo is a humming backdrop to an array of outsiders: a young woman arrives to work as a stripper, the manager of a love hotel hatches a sleazy plan, a spirit wanders Harajuku, and a mother embarks on a sad journey.

Linked through recurring characters and themes, these haunting stories hurtle us into the streets of Tokyo and small-town New Zealand. The secular city of salarymen, sex workers and schoolgirls is juxtaposed with rongoā healers, lone men and rural matriarchs of Aotearoa.

This collection of short stories is complex and layered, but are woven together by Maia, a Māori woman fighting for her place in the world.

Author Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) takes readers on a journey, bound together by Maia and her daughter Aria, across countries and cultures, dark and light. Time is not a linear concept in Kōhine. Lenihan leans into te ao Māori here, taking readers through time, space and place.

Each story experiments with style and structure. While the book is obviously a collection of short stories and each one stands on their own rights, the threads that weave them together mean you read the book more as a novel. At times it was hard to remember who was who and their relationship to the story.

I loved Ruru, with its rich descriptions of New Zealand's flora, fauna and landscape. Leaping Off Place II gave me goosebumps and had me in tears, as did Just Holden Together. Lenihan writes crisply and cleanly, while also appealing to readers' senses (the description of boil up in Just Holden Together made me incredibly homesick). Her sense of atmosphere and place is spot-on, and each story has elements of humour and honesty without being sentimental.

Kōhine is an interesting debut from a talented writer who straddles the line between darkness and light.

Reviewed by Rebekah Lyell

Huia Publishers, RRP $25


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