Legacy by Whiti Hereaka
A finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children's and Young Adult 2019.
Seventeen-year-old Riki is worried about school and the future, but mostly about his girlfriend, Gemma, who has suddenly stopped seeing or texting him. But on his way to see her, he’s hit by a bus and his life radically changes. Riki wakes up one hundred years earlier in Egypt, in 1915, and finds he’s living through his great-great-grandfather’s experiences in the Māori Contingent.
At the same time as Riki tries to make sense of what’s happening and find a way home, the reader is transported through time as well, reading transcripts of interviews Riki’s great-great-grandfather gave in 1975 about his experiences in this war and its impact on their family.
Gradually author Whiti Hereaka brings the reader to realise the fates of Riki and his great-great-grandfather are intertwined.
This is an incredible book. While it is a work of fiction, Hereaka has dedicated hours and hours of research into the book. It is deeply rooted in history – Sir Aparana Ngata and ‘the price of citizenship’, Gallipoli, Hinemoa and her love Tūtānaekai, Matariki and mātauranga Māori, the Māori Contingent in Egypt; these snapshots of our collective history are all present in the book.
Hereaka covers some big topics and perspectives in the novel. Riki’s great-great-grandfather Te Ariki’s views on war and the impact it had, as well as how we commemorate it, were particularly important and touching to me. The character’s viewpoint sounded exactly like my grandfather’s. These views are not always the ones we hear, but if we listen harder and take the time, they are there and are extremely valid. As such, the character Te Ariki felt well rounded and incredibly believable. It was often hard to remember that this book is fictional, it cut close to the bone so often.
While the book is centered around war, it’s not all gory scenes or life in the trenches. Hereaka guides us through some tough truths throughout the time-slip. The characters discuss representation and equality, “warrior whakapapa” and abortion, among many, many other topics. This makes it almost impossible to just “get lost” in the story. This is by no means a criticism, Legacy will make you think and reflect on your own thoughts, opinions and viewpoints. Hereaka forces the reader to consider alternative viewpoints. However, the story is not ‘bogged down’ by these big questions, the book is incredibly readable.
With a Māori author and Māori characters, it might seem inevitable that te reo Māori would be used in the book. However, there is a dearth of young adult novels with both Māori characters and te reo so it is fantastic that Legacy bucks the trend. Te reo Māori is used throughout the book in a really natural, authentic way. I loved that there was barely any translations.
The ending of the book is brilliant, clever and haunting. It will confuse some people, and possibly let some readers down. It will leave readers with more questions than answers – a common theme throughout the book as a whole.
Legacy lives up to its name. As soon as I finished I wanted to flip back and read it again. This masterpiece has stayed with me and I have no doubt it will continue to challenge me for some time yet.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Huia, RRP $25