Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 12, 2019

Ned and Katina, by Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace DCNZM QSO (b. 1937) is a significant Māori writer of novels, short stories, and children’s books and her work has won multiple awards and is widely translated. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand tells us that she is:

… of Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa and Te Ati Awa descent, and is affiliated to Ngati Porou by marriage. She has gained wide recognition as a key figure in the emergence of Māori fiction in English since the 1970s. Her work, expressive of Māori consciousness and values, is distinguished also for the variety of Māori people and ways of life it portrays and for its resourceful versatility of style and narrative and descriptive technique.

In 1975 she published Waiariki, the first collection of short stories by a Māori woman writer, and in 1978 she followed that with one of the first Māori novels, Mutuwhenua: The Moon Sleeps. Wikipedia lists the novels that followed as

But the inclusion of Ned and Katina as a novel is an error.  It’s not a novel, it’s a double-biography, and it’s not even a work of creative non-fiction using imagination to fill in the gaps.  Much as I have enjoyed all of her other books, this one is a bit of a disappointment.  The book was commissioned by the sons of Ned and Katina, who met when he was on active service on Crete in WW2 and she was a village school teacher in a place that made heroic efforts to protect allied servicemen from the Nazi Occupation.  But the book suffers, in my opinion, from the uneven focus on the two protagonists.

What soon becomes apparent is that despite an abundance of letters, photographs, voice and video recordings, interviews, log books, articles and memorabilia, Katina’s voice is mute.  The book primarily focusses on Ned’s Māori family history; his service in a Māori battalion and its cultural mores*; his service history including being separated from his unit; his time on Crete evading capture but finally being taken as a POW; his repatriation to England due to injury; and the anguish of his unanswered letters to Katina back on Crete.  There is background about her family, and village life, and the dangers faced by villagers supporting the allies, but almost none of this is in Katina’s words, and very little of it is from her personal perspective.

And when the couple are finally reunited, and Ned brings Katina to New Zealand as his bride, we learn nothing about how she coped with the cultural shock, with not knowing the language, or how she felt about being so far from her family, or how she made friends of her own outside the Nathan family.  Mindful of Eleanor Limprecht’s thoughtful novel The Passengers (see my review) which told the story of an Australian war bride in the US, I was expecting Ned and Katina to capture something of Katina’s emotional experience.  It’s frustrating not to know whether this is because of Katina self-censoring her feelings, or if the adult sons or other family members have in any way suppressed content that would have detracted from the family narrative of a great love story.

In the Introduction we see an admission that hints at the possibility that Grace may not have had permission to tell the whole story:

All told, the writing of Ned and Katina has been a group effort—quite a different experience for me from flying solo on fiction. For the first time I was writing a story I did not own. It was new, challenging, a shared adventure. (p.11)

Is there any significance to the fact that so far, it’s an experiment that Grace hasn’t repeated?

Ned and Katina is a story of great heroism and accomplishment, and it tells the story of a little known aspect of WW2, but the story fails to engage.

Clark Issacs at the Otago Daily Times was more impressed than I was.

* The cultural mores of Māori servicemen as detailed in this book make an interesting contrast with the Indigenous servicemen in Australia.  Our Mob Served (which I reviewed for Indigenous Literature Week 2019) is a collection of oral testimony from Indigenous men and women who served in Australian Defence Forces, from the Boer War onwards.  Where Māori served together in the same Battalion, insisting on elaborate farewell and returning ceremonies as well as distinctive protocols for bring the dead home, Indigenous Australian service personnel were integrated into regular units and appear from the testimonies to have valued the opportunity to be treated the same as any other Australians.  (Which was not generally their experience in civilian life, either before or after their service.)

Author: Patricia Grace
Title: Ned and Katina, a true love story
Publisher: Penguin Books, New Zealand 2009
ISBN: 9780143007401
Source: Personal library, purchased from Brotherhood Books

 


Responses

  1. Hi Literary Fans,

    I have to admit that I haven’t read much literature by Maori writers of New Zealand. I was introduced to Patricia Grace in an English graduate seminar. I read her short story “Letters from Whetu” which centers on an adolescent Maori boy name Whetu who is admonished by his teacher for not adhering to formal English standards of writing. Whetu writes a series of self-reflection pieces in broken English, reflective of his accent and nuances of the community he comes from. He writes about his frustrations with his teacher to assimilate to an English colonial education system where he is limited in expressing his facets of his Maori identity, culture, and language.

    From the brief research I’ve done on Patricia Grace, she crafts her fiction in non-standard English, using Maori words and cultural references. I wanted to explore more of Grace’s fiction. I decided to purchase her Collected Stories. Prior to reading the book, I wanted to gain background information on Maori Literature. I decided to read the article, “Maori Literature in English: An Introduction” by Norman Simms. It was informative but I needed to read more scholarship on Maori literature to gain entryway into Grace’s fiction. It was difficult for me to understand many of stories due to the language and my limited knowledge of Maori history and culture in New Zealand.

    I understand your point of gaining a more in-depth view of the intimate lives of the subjects in Ned and Katina. One of the major concerns with writing life stories is determining what personal details to include and exclude. I’m sorry that the biography didn’t meet your expectations Lisa. I remember when I was conducting information on the African American author and folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston. At the time I was conducting my research, there was a biography published in the 1970s by Robert Hemingway where there were some gaps and silences due to limited information available at that time. There were biographical articles and short length biographies on Hurston revealing similar issues in content. I wanted to gain more insight into Hurston as a woman, wife, and artist. A few years later, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd filled those gaps and gave voice to this remarkable woman.

    I look forward to learning about Maori writers during Indigenous Literature Week. Thanks for your insight Lisa.

    Sonia

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    • Hello Sonia, thanks for your comment.
      First of all, I have reorganised the Indigenous Lit List into three separate pages because it was becoming so unwieldy, so check here for a dedicated page of Maori and Pacific writing.
      https://anzlitlovers.com/anzll-indigenous-literature-reading-list/indigenous-writing-from-new-zealand-maori-and-pacific-islands/
      Your comment about expectations, is valid. I think I have been influenced by bios published later than this, particularly bios of ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’ women: these days such bios attend to the gaps in the record with what is called ‘creative non-fiction’. Had it been written in that style, the book would have speculated about the obvious queries that I’ve raised (e.g. about her adjustment to life in NZ) and then noted that Katina left no record of that, and also speculated about why that might have been. I am tempted to think that the influence of this being a ‘collaborative’ work commissioned by Ned and Katina’s sons may have been relevant.

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  2. […] see my ANZ LitLovers review […]

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  3. I wonder what about the story inspired her. Family history would seem to be a very restrictive environment for a creative writer,

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    • They were well-known Kiwi identities, having had successful restaurants and other business interests, and apparently they’d been approached to tell their life story while they were alive. It was their sons who finally approached Grace with a request that she do it.
      But yes, if you’ve read The Biographer’s Lover by Ruby J Murray, that spells out the pressures that are on the writer, who wants to tell all, and tell it in her own way, versus the offspring not wanting to have family mythology interfered with.

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  4. […] Ned and Katina, by Patricia Grace […]

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