Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff
20 November 2002

 

I expected to be upset and emotional, but am slowly coming to realise that expectations count for little. It is indeed an upsetting and emotive book, but that wasn't my first reaction. No, my first reaction was one of relief. The kind of relief you feel when you thought you broke your neighbour's lawnmower, then discover that the blade was getting worn anyway. For a year I've been trying to let go of my guilt complex about being of the colonising race in a culturally messed-up nation. Now I feel that I can let go of it - all the stuff at the end of the book about taking responsibility and not apportioning blame. A nice excuse for me to recede into my comfortable world and pretend I don't see or don't know.

The film had a greater impact on me than the book, probably because it was all right up in my face in images and sounds, so I didn't have to concentrate. (That's what film is all about, I suppose.) And the unconventional punctuation, grammar and syntax employed by Duff threw me a bit, reducing the transparency of the page (see Learning to Read). Also, knowing the plot already reduced my shock at the violence and at events like Grace's suicide. For all these reasons I experienced emotions after seeing the film - shock, grief, anger, fear, revulsion - that I did not experience afer reading the book.

But it's a great book, it says stuff that badly needed to be said, it's part of the national psyche and so I'm very glad I've finally read it.

 

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