Aue is the family saga and debut novel by New Zealand writer Becky Manawatu. It focuses on 16-year-old Taukiri and his eight year old brother, Arama. Gang violence has killed Taukiri's father and his mother has been in hiding for years. His brother, Arama, is an orphan.
Taukiri sets off to the North Island on a journey to find a mother with whom he has no relationship, leaving Arama in the tenuous care of his loving Aunty Kat and violent Uncle Stu. As Taukiri collides with himself and his past, Arama is equally grieving. Feeling abandoned by his brother, he finds his own ways of processing what is happening to him. He befriends his neighbour, Beth, and her whacky dog, Lupo. With Arama's sensitivity complementing Beth's bravado, the pair become inseparable.
Manawatu uses "point of view" very effectively. Whilst Taukiri and Arama are central, the novel flits between a number of characters, using both first and third-person narration. Importantly, all the characters have a limited point of view - they, and therefore the reader, only understand events from their own unique perspective. This puzzling together of viewpoints and events is central to the story, creating friction and tragic misunderstanding. Manawatu's decision to centre the nave perspective of Arama is particularly compelling and creates a sense of comedic irony. More importantly though, it questions the perception of power and who holds it.
Maori cultural identity is a key theme, rendered fraught against the backdrop of colonisation. Te Reo Maori is used throughout the book - including its title, which means "to cry, howl, groan, wail or bawl" or an "expression of astonishment or distress" - although not all characters can speak it. Manawatu, who is Ngai Tahu, Ngati Mamoe a Waitaha, and Pakeha, understands the complexity of identity and has spoken publicly about her own experiences navigating this as a child.
Aue encapsulates the best and worst of humanity. The violence is merciless, the cruelty calculated, and the pain visceral. But Aue is also hopeful - it's fiercely loving, it's resilient, and sometimes it's even funny. It exposes both the destructive and healing power of grief. And grief is something Manawatu knows intimately - when she was 11 her cousin and best friend, Glen Bo, was killed by his stepfather in a shocking episode of family violence. He was only 10. Aue is influenced by the tragedy of Glen Bo's death and the complex issues of trauma, neglect and addiction that marked his upbringing.
Aue is a vivid and profound work, that lays bare the serious social issues that affect some of the most vulnerable. First published in New Zealand in 2021, it has rightfully won a slew of prizes.
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