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Summer Reads: Auē

Don't let going back to work stop you holding onto the joys of summer. Dina Jezdic tells us why you need to read Becky Manawatu's incredible debut novel.


What if the most important person in your life keeps abandoning you? What if you ran out of the plasters that help hide that pain you’re feeling? 

Becky Manawatu’s debut novel Auē is about intergenerational trauma, loss, violence, families, betrayal and redemption. It is a heavy book that follows a young orphaned boy Ārama, in the South Island as he copes with being abandoned by his older brother Taukiri, left to be raised by his aunt and her violent husband.

“I got up and went to the bathroom and found things to plaster. I put my head over my chest to find the heartbeat, then put about six plasters over the loudness.”

The book is action-filled and fast-paced; however, propelling the emotional stride is the lyrical prose of Manawatu’s writing that makes this book exceptional. Making sense of generational trauma is multifaceted and Auē reveals just to what extent these complexities get further intertwined when lives are impacted by love and hate equally, while trapped by the consequences of decisions made by others.  

Manawatu permeates these painful sections of gang life, death, drugs with an aching, tender love and friendship that will lead the characters to salvation. These recurring episodes feel too much like real life, encased by tenderness, acts of kindness and love delivered in lesser-known formats.

“Coon had touched her so softly. And as Jade lay there, her eyes closed, she wondered if he thought she was asleep while he whispered into her back. Or if he didn’t care that those words might hurt her. But his soft hand as he spoke of the violence that ended her father’s life reminded her of something. The only type of love she knew. Fury then remorse and forgiveness. And she hoped Coon knew how far his fury should go to create a perfect equation of those things. An equilibrium they could measure love by. A trinity. Love, as she’d learned it.” 

Although the book is focused on gang violence and about being Māori in Aotearoa, it is more personal than political, and never gratuitous. There is absolutely nothing neutral about it either, and that’s what makes it so hypnotic. It is definitely one of the most harrowing stories of our time - but the strange and unsettling part is just how close to realism it is to many families.

“Jade had wanted her father to defy things too. She saw that Head was inspired by Māui, but there was something else, the thing that stopped him from becoming Māui. The wish that someone had read those stories to him, before tucking him into bed. And he would huff and stand. Shrug on his leather jacket and leave the room like he intended to defy, like he was a Māori warrior. But on the street, in the real world, he realised they were just stories. The sun couldn’t be slowed. Never had been.”

In all of its grimness, this is a love story where all of the heroes are trying their best with what life has served them. They are hopeful that a new beginning, love and happiness is what is coming just around the corner, which is at times both heartbreaking and irresistible. 

Auē is about the power of words that give us hope and heal all wounds, even those that are intergenerational. 

“Stories are knowledge, knowledge is power and one day we’ll take our power and rule something better than this House.”

It is one of the best things I have ever read.    


Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press) is available in all good bookstores.

Written by

Dina Jezdic

12 Jan 2021