About Me

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Victoria, Australia
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff

This book is not nice. It's vicious, confronting and brutal. I cringed my way through the abuse and hopelessness that the characters endure, trapped as they are in this depiction of gang culture and domestic violence. I finished the story totally drained and in awe of Duff's work. It is simply one of the best books I've ever read. Which is weird because I hate violence and I would never even try to watch the film version because I would be hiding behind a cushion the whole time. 
   Once Were Warriors is the story of an abusive husband and father Jake Heke and how his family falls apart under the stresses his violence and drunkeness cause. The characters are so real, so vital and so well drawn that you get totally sucked in to their vortex of poverty and alcoholism. It is a sad, disturbing read and makes you so angry for the women and children stuck in this situation. Did I mention this was about a Maori family? It could be about a family anywhere, but the Maori setting gives the title. These people, they once were warriors, in control of their land and their destinies. Now they are floundering in poverty, crime and hopelessness. It's powerful stuff.

Once Were Warriors (1991 UQP)

   This is not a book I'd recommend for teenagers but it is definately a book I'd recommend to budding writers. Duff has broken every rule here to produce a voice that is raw and authentic and a style that must have had the editors squirming. If you don't like swearing in books, then steer clear. Same if you like correct spelling. If you cherish good punctuation with properly set out paragraphs and clearly defined speech, give this one a miss.
   However, if you are a serious student of engaging writing, of how to carve an unforgettable voice from the page, then this is one book you just can't ignore, no matter how disturbing the content is.  


  1. Hi Beth:
    I have reviewed the FILM version of _Once Were Warriors_ on my own blog: http://pacificdreamsnewyorklife.blogspot.com/2010/05/review-essay-race-gender-and-tattoos-in.html.
    What an excellent film! I know you say that you would hide behind a pillow the whole time, but I actually found parts of the story very uplifting, especially the experience of Boogie (the younger son), who is sent away to school and comes back having learned traditional Maori arts and culture.

    But anyway, I have actually never read the book! Ah, that's something that I need to do! You might find it interesting that I plan on using the film in an undergraduate college class I am teaching this summer on Pacific history. I look forward to seeing how my students respond to it!


  2. Good to hear from you again. I found your comments interesting. I guess I've always been a bookish person and I've never really enjoyed films the way most people do. I get so involved and lost in the characters that the emotions are overwhelming for me.
    If you're interested in a Maori tale which details Maori history in all its gore and power struggles, Duff has written an equally violent but good book called Both Sides Of The Moon.
    I hope one day you have time to read it. It was astonishing stuff.