Sunday, September 03, 2017

KIWI NOVEL CROSSES POLITICAL & CULTURAL BOUNDARIES



 
For Greek-Kiwi writer Michalia Arathimos creativity knows no bounds. Her debut novel Aukati plunges into eco-politics and Māori land rights and blends cultures and languages to create a riveting and timely story set on the slopes of Mount Taranaki.

Launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival and boasting a cover by award-winning designer Sarah Laing, Aukati is about a rural Māori community threatened by fracking activities, the activists who are trying to save it and the difficulties in drawing clear lines between those involved. The activists include Alexia and Isaiah, two young people separated from their cultures – one Māori and one Greek. The word 'aukati' means 'boundary lines' and especially those between Māori ancestral lands and land belonging to the Crown. With volatile raids, environmental activism and a community under threat, Aukati is a novel with politics and social unrest at its heart.

There is a personal element in the story for Arathimos. ‘It draws on my own experiences growing up as a Greek-New Zealander –  and also what I experienced when my partner was arrested in 2007 under the Terrorism Suppression Act, just like Isaiah in the book, and was on trial for four years. We were under surveillance at this time, living with the threat of jail.' She says the book is a work of fiction, but the sense of injustice and rage at its heart is real. 

Novelist and academic Damien Wilkins launched Aukati in Melbourne and praised the author's handling of the material. 'The story tumbles thrillingly,' he says, 'and the lives it dramatises feel urgent because we are watching them take shape. If you like your fiction as I do - morally complex, tied up with large social and cultural forces, but never losing sight of how people actually live their lives -  then Aukati is your next read.' 

Mary McCallum, publisher at Mākaro Press in Wellington, says she took to heart a recent call-out by Witi Ihimaera for more of the political in this country’s novels, and adds that given the centrality of politics in our lives it's surprising there isn't more of it. She says: ‘A recent Guardian article went so far as to say that since politics has now become stranger than fiction novelists need to try harder. Congratulations, Michalia, for "trying harder" and for what you've achieved. We hope readers will embrace this exciting new novel.' 

Aukati launched as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival on Saturday 2 September. There will also be a New Zealand launch in November at LitCrawl 2017 in Wellington.

Aukati can be ordered from any independent bookstore in New Zealand and Readings in Melbourne, NZ RRP $38. 

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