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Publisher's Summary

Once Were Warriors is Alan Duff's harrowing vision of his country's indigenous people 200 years after the English conquest. In prose that is both raw and compelling, it tells the story of Beth Heke, a Maori woman struggling to keep her family from falling apart, despite the squalor and violence of the housing projects in which they live. Conveying both the rich textures of Maori tradition and the wounds left by its absence, Once Were Warriors is a masterpiece of unblinking realism, irresistible energy, and great sorrow.

©1990 Alan Duff (P)2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"This is the Haka, the rage of the people who, yes, once were warriors.... A kick to the guts of New Zealand's much vaunted pride in its Maori/Pakeha race relations. A breathless, fearless debut." (Witi Ihimaera)
"Duff (himself the son of a Maori mother and a white father) shows amazing facility with language in the intense, fast-paced, choppy internal monologues he gives his characters.... Duff shows courage in attacking the view that assimilation is the first step out of poverty, and he does so by spinning a compelling tale." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"Alan Duff's first novel bursts upon the literary landscape with all the noise and power of a new volcano." (Michael Gifkins, New Zealand Listener)

What listeners say about Once Were Warriors

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    5 out of 5 stars

Hard Hitting Reality of Low Income Living

This story is an absolute slog to get through due to the extremely intense nature of the content. Very confronting. Alan Duff truly wrote his Magnum Opus here. Jay Laga'aia delivers an excellent Mauri tone for the story. I am an absolute Aussie Bogan and this story hits home authentically even for me, let alone for Mauris and Pacific Islanders who are stuck in the circle of death and shit that is low income, no hope, racist, alcoholic, gang and violence fueled, drug fucked, miserable, suicidal neighborhoods. This story is a breath taking piece of literature that sets the tone and explains the hard knock life that so many low income families go through so the people in medium income and above can really get in touch with the shit lives others live. I want to spend a few moments talking about Jake; he is the character I associate most with; An angry, alcoholic, abusive cunt. So this story was extremely hard to get through. My past is filled with alcoholism, anger, fighting, smashing things, verbally abusing people and fuck me did it make me realize how far I've come since I quit grog and turned my life around. Listen to this fucking story. Read this fucking story. Watch the fucking film. Once Were Warriors is fucking excellent and fucking miserable.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 15-02-2018

4000X better then the movie

A sad reality that is not to far from home for many. A glimpse into a life you may not understand but you can connect with them by family, hope, spirit, and love.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Isaak
  • 08-09-2020

For people who never get up from the bottom

*minor/suggestive spoilers* I watched this movie in college for a Women's Studies course. The movie left me crying and shaking; the book wasn't any happier. Jake and Beth Heke, two thirty something year old (36 and 34, if you're really interested) parents to six children (five in the home until the end) who live with no one, but each other their own failed dreams for company. Jake, a descendant of slaves, is in fact enslaved by his own anger, the drink, and wanting to be 'the man' but he's only taking up space. He's unemployed, a wife-beater, and so common that even as the reader that dislikes him, you feel compassion for his struggle anyway. The author was very brilliant in that regard. Beth, the woman who loves/loved him for all the years they married is a descendant of warriors but is always the submissive, trying to keep together a family, her family. She eventually realizes her own self worth, but at a great cost. If you watched the movie, it's not a surprise. The only issue I had with the book is that it reads a lot like a long run on sentence and sometimes you don't know that the speaker has changed (no quotations, no 'Grace said' or 'Beth states'), but it wasn't completely necessary. It's more like my preference. You just really have to pay attention for the character switches. The book 'Requiem for a Dream' is also like that; it's like the ongoing ramblings of one broken, hindered family. I recommend, but keep a box of tissues close.

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  • Anthony
  • 10-12-2014

Interweaves Maori violence, softness & community

Powerfully written tragic story of alcohol, violence, loss of identity and dysfunctionality in Maori community, 200 years after colonial conquest.

Context is everything but this novel goes beyond helping one understand the presence of such hopelessness and violence in the Maori and other First Peoples of the world. The novel takes us into the darkness and impact of alcohol and violence on communities and social cohesion. Along the way we are introduced to community solidarity in Two Pines, and to the Heke family: Grace - an adolescent lost in tragic circumstances; Jake - the father whose loss of identity and role suffuses the dysfunctional family; and Beth - resilient mother who reaffirms centrality of community and hope.

Powerfully written, beautifully narrated, informative insights into Maori communities and culture. Worth reading whether to enter the world of the Maori (and many other Indigenous Peoples worldwide); to understand the impact of alcohol and violence on families; or to connect with under-classes everywhere and appreciate the challenge of transforming the trajectory of difficult lives...

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-10-2019

Loved it!

A really powerful story, amazingly narrated, really opened me eyes to the challenges faced by the Maori’s, would recommend.

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  • brian
  • 16-11-2018

Very Different From The Film

I wish they had made the movie stick closer to the book. Some characters in the movie aren’t in this book, and whole story arcs are missing from the movie, or dramatically altered. Great book, expertly read by a native Maori. I will definitely listen to this book again. Very inspirational.

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