Perceptive, endearing look at the often fraught contacts between Maoris and Westerners, both in history and in the personal life of Harvard Review editor Thompson.
Two decades ago, while on vacation from her graduate studies in literature of the Pacific at the University of Melbourne, the Boston-raised author met a Maori man in Kerikeri, New Zealand. She and Seven (so-named because he is the seventh of ten children) fell in love, married, had three children and lived all over the Pacific before moving in with her parents near Boston. Thompson mingles this personal story with a candid examination of persistent, troubling issues of race and stereotype in the history of the two cultures’ encounters. The first was in 1642, when Dutch captain Abel Janszoon Tasman named the New Zealand inlet where his ships lay anchored “Murderers’ Bay” after a deadly collision with the local Maoris. Subsequent accounts, including those by Cook and Darwin, underscored the indigenous tribes’ “bellicose” nature, yet the author points out that the Maoris’ warlike image was most likely a byproduct of Western contact. Similarly, the initial bewilderment and misunderstanding between the two cultures experienced when she and Seven first met could easily have marred their relationship. Thompson gently portrays her husband’s decidedly non-Western worldview: his resistance to planning for the future, his superstitiousness and his sense of communalism. It challenged her ingrained notions of class and race, and it also occasionally supported the Noble Savage stereotype. “What was funny about living with Seven,” she writes, “was the way those musty paradigms…would periodically spring to life.” She closes with a heartfelt letter to the couple’s three sons, each containing “a little bit of the conqueror and conquered,” asking them not to be sentimental about their dual ancestry since, in the end, their parents aren’t as different as they look.
Honest, forthright self-examination engenders a well-wrought sense of shared destiny.