Kāwai: For Such A Time As This – Monty Soutar


● In the opening pages a 19-year-old man walks onto his family Marae and asks the local koroua about his whanau’s history. The man’s answer is provided over the following 300-odd pages. He tells of Kaitanga, born 1734 into a proud line and destined to be not only chief but a warrior, born to avenge the killings of his uncles and other tribesmen. We follow Kai, as he is known, from his birth through to his adulthood and hear about his warrior training, his friendships and loves and the pressure of living with such expectations upon him.

At the front of the book the author tells us ‘This saga is loosely based not on one true story but on many true stories.’

‘Our son’s name shall be a reminder to him, and to all his generation, that it will be by their hands that our tribe shall be avenged … Kia whakairo rawatia te tikange o tēnei ingoa ki tōna wairau mo ake tonu atu,’ Tāwae declared. Let the meaning of this name be seared deep into his soul forever.

● I appreciated how Kawai didn’t try and sugarcoat anything in regards to Māori history, with it delving right into certain subjects that have been completely avoided by other Aotearoa novels. Speaking of avoidance, I generally steer clear of historical multi-generational stories because I am not necessarily very interested in learning about some American family on a prairie hundreds of years ago. However, when it is set in my own country my buy-in was immediate and I was gripped. Dr Soutar’s biography clearly shows that he knows his stuff, and he has turned his knowledge of this country’s past into a highly readable and fascinating story. – Suzy

● This story is dense, detailing what appears to be, a realistic retelling of pre-colonial Māori life and the no-holds barred realities of tribal conflict. It features extensive use of Te Reo, translating in a way that aids readability but treats the reader and their knowledge with respect. The book is bound to become an important feature of NZ history texts. The author has done an amazing job here, writing something historically accurate but with a plot and characters that read like traditional fiction. My only gripe is the ending – it is clear the story continues in a second instalment. – Rachel


Published 2022
David Bateman
371 pages

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