‘Auē’ by Becky Manawatu

Raw and compelling, Auē is the assured award-winning debut novel from New Zealand writer Becky Manawatu.

It’s an expertly crafted tale of loss, grief and domestic violence; of fractured family and gang culture; but most of all it’s a narrative of love, friendship and hope as the eight year-old Ārama (Ari) settles into a new life without his brother Taukiri and without his parents. Now, living with the loving Aunty Kat, he must navigate the aggression and violence of Uncle Stu.

Manawatu choses to tell several perspectives of her story in a fractured, non-linear way, swooping patiently between a struggling Taukiri in Wellington and his younger brother on the farm on South Island. As their separate narratives, past and present, unfold, so a sense of one is slowly revealed. With an overriding guilt of abandoning his brother, Taukiri attempts to make sense of the events that have left them as virtual orphans – the violent gangland killing of his father, the subsequent disappearance of their mother as she fled into hiding, looking to escape a terrifying drug-related history.

As Taukiri finds a degree of stability in the city, a confused Ari befriends the tough but vulnerable Beth, daughter of a neighbouring farmer. Home-schooled together by Kat (when she hasn’t been beaten senseless by Stu), she and dog, Lupo, are loyal to their new found neighbour. Exploring the neighbourhood together, the adventurous trio create a powerful bond – even if Ari would trade it all to see Taukiri to come back for him.

Aue (a te reo Maori word meaning to cry, howl, groan, wail or bawl, as well as an interjection expressing astonishment or distress) is a beautiful, almost indefinable, book that incorporates incredible violence resulting in the destruction of family with unconditional love; juxtaposes an innocent and childlike take on character with murderous revenge, personal atonement with heart rending forgiveness. Sad, moving, buoyantly funny, Aue was, understandably, winner of the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction, New Zealand’s richest literary award and, for two successive years (2020 and 2021), the country’s top selling novel.


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