A book with no boundaries, Eleanor Bassett
February 22, 2021
For 362 pages, Aukati by Michalia Arathimos and its complexities consumed my headspace. This is a book that my Year 12 English teacher could have been analysing with the class. ‘Aukati’ means boundary, and this book challenges the reader’s; just like Alexia, Isaiah, and the iwi challenge the fracking operation occurring next to the community.
Alexia enters the marae as a Greek New Zealand law student, who is unintentionally following an eco-warrior activism group to the marae. Isaiah comes, or returns, to the marae as a metaphorical ‘prodigal son’; he is a part of the whānau there. Arathimos uses vocabulary, prose and ideas to cross and merge the cultures in the novel. Dispersed between chapters are quotations translated in English, Greek or Māori. This becomes an elegant reflection and opposite, depending on the reader’s perspective, for the racial prejudice and injustice to occur. The reflection and opposition occurs through the author’s structure choice marrying both Greek and Māori, as she shows one of the ways Pakeha see them; as the same:
“God, they thought she was Māori….. She tried to shake her head, but the people around her didn’t notice. This had happened a couple of times before…”
Reflecting that, the Greek and Māori character factors in the novel work to be distinguished outside of being the same but still work together; similar to how the prose and vocabulary work. Like so much in this novel, the interpretation depends on the reader’s personal perspective.
Slowly, the book develops in a way almost fitting of a character-driven modern crime novel (except this one is a crime novel based on warfare for the environment). All the crime novel tropes lie below the surface, but are hidden from view by the statements the author curates around decisive and diverse issues and ideas. Each character contains an element of a personality trait that can be reflected in every reader. Arathimos creates relateable characters, prompting the reader to consider morally complex questions. Can Pakeha be activists for indigenous communities? Is there anything problematic about white activism? Are we as a society complicit in a surveillance culture?
As she grows more confident in her work over 67 chapters, Arathimos incorporates more metaphors and motifs, and more language devices not often seen outside of poetry; giving the book a fluid feel to read; much like the music that plays a role in the characters’ lives on the marae!
This was published as part of the author’s doctoral work in 2017, with surprisingly little public recognition when it was published. This is the book to grab onto this year; to read, to reread, to discuss, and to lend around your book club. The beauty of this book is that its boundary is non-existent; in how you consider the angles of the ideas, what ideas are conveyed, and the readers immersing themselves.
There is no other New Zealand fiction book similar to compare, but in an interview Arathimos wrote that she keeps her debut novel on a bookshelf “…brazenly alongside Black Marks on the White Page by Witi Ihimaera” (Hill, 2017). Perhaps in 35 years’ time Aukati will sit alongside Ihimaera on teachers and students bookshelves as a New Zealand fiction classic?
- Eleanor Bassett is 18 and lives in Upper Hutt. When she isn’t attempting to be Dr Dolittle or the next Pippa Funnell or the next Molly Huddle; she pores over and philosophises all forms of writings!