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The Uncle's Story - Book Review

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Published February 15th 2013
Witi Ihimaera's The Uncle's Story is an important postcolonial text that dwells on contemporary issues in New Zealand and abroad.

We meet Michael, a young Maori man who declares to his family that he is homosexual. Met with prejudice and a lack of acceptance, he seeks refuge from his haters and confides with his aunty who shares a family secret that brought shame to his lineage.

Diary entries and Michael's imagination splits the story in two and shows his Uncle Sam's struggles throughout the Vietnam War and life in the 1960s as a gay man. Sam's adventures weave a dual narrative that is both tragic and compelling.

The Uncle's Story is important for its social commentary of past and present New Zealand, because it demonstrates cultural representation for political and social authority. Issues of sexuality, race, and culture are explored in great detail too.

New Zealand society today is blended with Maori traditions and European, or Pakeha, influences. Both cultures have their differences, but they do share a dominant, public disdain towards homosexuality as a socially acceptable sexual preference. Marriage between partners of the same sex, or lack thereof, is a poignant example of sexual inequality in contemporary society.

Ihimaera also explores the concept of masculinity. Generally, where traditional Maori men perceive 'queers' as weak, un-masculine, a waste of precious sperm, there are those who share similar biases.

This snippet of dialogue encapsulates the political discourse:

'I only wish, Michael, dear, that you would see that you've been colonised twice over. First, by the Pakeha. Second by the gay Pakeha. Even in the gay world the white majority holds the power, the money, the decision making power—and it is their images which tell you what is desirable …' (Ihimaera 2000, p.131).

It is important to note that The Uncle's Story is not discussing these issues as though they are new, quite the opposite. Ihimaera tells a beautiful story while discussing sexuality and identity without being too didactic.
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Why? Maori man struggles for gay acceptance
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