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Parihaka, A novel by John Hinchcliff

Published by Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2004, reviewed by Frank Gaze

The first thing you want to know from a reviewer is whether this book is worth reading. The answer is yes.

If you want a clear, factual, easily read account of the Parihaka incident of 1881 then this book you must read. John Hinchcliff, who is the Vice-chancellor of the Auckland University of Technology, has put together a well-researched account of this part of our history, in an interesting way, by adding several fictional characters who witness the whole episode and are involved in it.

If you have read Ask that Mountain, Days of Darkness and The Fox Boy, and you want a clear chronological summary of the whole sequence, this should sort it out for you.

If you want to encourage your children or grandchildren to learn about Parihaka, then the action and the love interest of the fictional characters should interest them.

I have some quibbles about John Hinchcliff’s account nevertheless. There are a few anachronisms: the head of government is called the Prime Minister when that title was not introduced until New Zealand became a Dominion in the early 20th Century; in 1868 John Hinchcliff has one of his fictional characters singing “Who is on the Lord’s Side?”, a hymn that was not written until 1877; and so on. But they are mere quibbles, and don’t detract from the general impression.

If your idea of a historical novel is A Tale of Two Cities, or War and Peace, or even one of Patrick O’Brian’s books like Master and Commander, then you need to know that this is a modern historical novel, more like a docu-drama. The Parihaka incident is the main story, the main focus of the book, and the fictional parts are mere sub-plots, whereas in those traditional historical novels, the story and characters are fictional against a background of real historical events and people.

In this book we meet Tohu and Te Whiti, the leaders of the Parihaka movement, along with Bryce, Hursthouse, Atkinson, Rolleston, Parris, Major Brown and Titokowaru, all apparently historically accurate.

And I have one lingering worry about the appropriateness of the climax of the fictional sub-plot, but I can’t discuss that without giving away the ending, so you’ll have to read it for yourself to see.

Frank Gaze, New Plymouth

For our overseas readers:Despite Parihaka's pacifist ethos, many Europeans in Taranaki and elsewhere feared that the resistance campaign was a prelude to armed conflict. Native Minister John Bryce used this fear as an excuse to lead 644 troops and nearly 1000 settler volunteers into Parihaka on 5 November 1881. Instead of violence, they were met by singing children offering them food. The pa was destroyed, none the less, and Te Whiti and Tohu and other leaders arrested - but not tried - for sedition. They then endured two years of enforced exile in Otago." A Penguin History of New Zealand, Michael King, pp219-220