_Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All:_ memoirs and the past
A rather good look at the collision of Western and Maori cultures.
Not nearly enough to satisfy, and left me with more questions than answers.
The Bottom Line:
As much as I liked this one, it did not satisfy.
In 2006 I was fortunate enough to go to New Zealand for a month. From the time that I stepped off the plane to when I had to return home, I fell in love with this beautiful, remote country and its people. Ever since, I have tracked down as many books as I could on New Zealand, and I pray that one day I will be lucky enough to return. In the meantime, I'm using what books and film that I can find to fulfill my urge to return.
One of the books that I've used to feed my hunger to return to that very unique country has been Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson. It's an interesting blend of memoirs and history and heresay, that I found both compelling and disappointing to read. It's hard to find your ground when a book does that to you.
Christina tells her story in first person, telling us about her roots in Boston, Massachusetts, and her love for Australia. A vacation took her to an isolated community in New Zealand's north island where a change encounter with a young Maori man named Seven would open her life to a new direction. Christina falls for this taciturn, gentle giant of a man, and with him starts a future life that is full of ups and down, what with transiting between the US, New Zealand and Australia.
In between the modern romance and building a life between two cultures, Thompson relates the complicated, and at times, distressing story of the West and the Maori. From the discovery of New Zealand by Abel Tasman in the mid-seventeenth century, to the modern day. Along the way there are personal stories and legends, tales about how the Maori got such a blood-thirsty reputation, and how the Maori viewed the Pakeha (as those of European descent are termed) and vice versa. It does make for compelling reading, albeit in rather short bites that are easily digestible. For wanting a skimming history of a time and place, it's not bad.
Now for the downside of the book. It never quite gets tedious, but I kept feeling that as I read, I kept thinking that there should have been more. As I finished each chapter, I was starting to feel as though I was being spoonfed, and I didn't like it one bit. I was also starting to feel the self-loathing that I tend to do whenever I read about what happens when the Europeans show up on the horizon.
Most of the violent reputation comes from a mistranslation in Darwin's comments about New Zealand. Instead of hearing the shouted challenge from the Maori as a promise of dire threat, he interpeted it as a promise to indulge in cannibalism. Now, while the Maori did practice headhunting and did eat an enemy once in a while, to the audiences back home in Engand as a titilating sign of barbarism. In short, he got it all wrong, and did some cultural blackening along the way.
But the worst offense comes from despite the title, a good deal of the narrative is taking place outside of New Zealand. There's hardly anything actually set in New Zealand, and I found that to be terribly disappointing. I was hoping to find out something new about this country, but what there is, is very sparse. What there is from the European angle is very violent, and that from the Maori is wrapped up in a rather wistful dreamstate that felt more to be illusion and fanciful thinking than anything that was reality.
And that's where the book doesn't work at all. Yes, it makes for interesting read, and yes, I did get to learn a bit more about the Maori, but by the end, this felt like I had a meal composed of meraunge instead of the steak that I was really craving. That's a dreadful road to lead the reader on, and it just left me feeling very depressed.
Along with the narrative, there is a pronouciation guide, suggestions for further reading and a note from the author. For those interested in the peoples of New Zealand, it barely suffices, and while the modern mixes of problem solving in two different cultures was interesting, the rest felt very slight overall.
Three stars. Only somewhat recommended, with great reservations.
Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story
2008; Bloomsbury USA