Auē by Becky Manawatu is a heartfelt moving novel written in memory of
Manawatu's cousin, Glen Bo Duggan, who was killed by his Mother’s boyfriend at the age of 10 and also inspired by her sister who is married to a Mongrel Mob member. With these themes in mind it is no surprise that this story is heart breaking having been compared to Alan Duffs ‘Once Were Warriors’ however don’t let this comparison deter you as unlike Duffs sombre novel Auē is full of beautiful characters that are so full of heart it keeps you going through this constantly unfolding journey a true testament to her skill as a writer in this award winning debut novel.
Auē means to ‘howl’ or ‘cry’ in Te Reo which accurately describes the emotions evoked by this book as it takes you on a roller coaster of gang violence, family, motherhood, domestic abuse, love, race, toxic masculinity, mythology, isolation and addiction told through shifting perspectives and time. Firstly we are introduced to Taukiri and Ari 2 recently orphaned brothers before being introduced to the love story of Jade and Toko which pulls you in to keep reading to understand how the story intertwines with The brothers. I especially liked the perspective of 8 year old Ari and his friendship with Beth a young girl from next door with plenty of attitude often providing comic relief.
I particularly enjoyed that it is mainly set in the rural South Island towns as it shows the beauty of a NZ I feel close too. In contrast of this beauty we become aware that we never know the horror of what happens behind closed doors, a particularly important story to tell as NZ has the highest rate of domestic violence in the developed world and fiction has a way of discussing sensitive issues that is less jarring than the news and more effective at evoking empathy from readers.
While these difficult topics play out amongst the pages of Auē we need to be kind to Manawatu as there is bravery in telling this story, especially when so deeply personal. No author could get this 100% right and there has been some criticism of her reliance on Maori stereotypes, but what is important is she has taken the time to listen and reflect post publication.