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This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir

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This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pākehā. Every Pākehā becomes a Pākehā in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Maori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pākehā - and other New Zealanders - curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pākehā often experience in This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pākehā. Every Pākehā becomes a Pākehā in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Maori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pākehā - and other New Zealanders - curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pākehā often experience in our relationships with Maori. A timely and perceptive memoir from award-winning author and academic Alison Jones. As questions of identity come to the fore once more in New Zealand, this frank and humane account of a life spent traversing Pākehā and Maori worlds offers important insights into our shared life on these islands.


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This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pākehā. Every Pākehā becomes a Pākehā in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Maori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pākehā - and other New Zealanders - curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pākehā often experience in This book is about my making sense here, of my becoming and being Pākehā. Every Pākehā becomes a Pākehā in their own way, finding her or his own meaning for that Maori word. This is the story of what it means to me. I have written this book for Pākehā - and other New Zealanders - curious about their sense of identity and about the ambivalences we Pākehā often experience in our relationships with Maori. A timely and perceptive memoir from award-winning author and academic Alison Jones. As questions of identity come to the fore once more in New Zealand, this frank and humane account of a life spent traversing Pākehā and Maori worlds offers important insights into our shared life on these islands.

30 review for This Pākehā Life: An Unsettled Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Lawton

    My wife made me read this because I lacked (and still do) a collective identity, a resonance with being a NZer or defining myself in relation to race, place, or culture. This is despite experiencing and partially acknowledging the influences of privilege, ethnic/cultural ways of thinking, and social identity on who I am and how I live each day. But this is about the book lol. Alison's incredibly open and felt way of learning and self-discovery shone through in her homely writing tone and I was qui My wife made me read this because I lacked (and still do) a collective identity, a resonance with being a NZer or defining myself in relation to race, place, or culture. This is despite experiencing and partially acknowledging the influences of privilege, ethnic/cultural ways of thinking, and social identity on who I am and how I live each day. But this is about the book lol. Alison's incredibly open and felt way of learning and self-discovery shone through in her homely writing tone and I was quickly completely hooked into her story and her experiences of being Pakeha despite almost nothing in her life bearing any resemblance to my own. What she learned in her long life about herself and NZ has well informed my intellectual understanding of what it means to exist and relate in this complex multicultural country as a white person. Regardless, her story granted me no sense of place, I guess words don't posses that magic. What I gained for my own journey was this. I was inspired by her openness, vulnerability, and sensitivity toward knowing herself as a relational person and part of a larger story. Whilst only my own experiences will inform my evolving sense of self, I am able to take these attributes forward with me in such a search. Exciting. Well worth the read both as a lost soul and a Pakeha.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Philippa Mulqueen

    I knew when I saw this title in the school library that I had to read it.. even though it has sat on the bookshelf at home for three months. I, too, have been grappling with my understanding of my place in this land I call home and how to be in right relationship with tangata whenua in the 21st century. The author's journey resonates with me although there are naturally many differences. I'm two years younger than the author and grew up in the shadow of Maungakiekie rather than in a succession o I knew when I saw this title in the school library that I had to read it.. even though it has sat on the bookshelf at home for three months. I, too, have been grappling with my understanding of my place in this land I call home and how to be in right relationship with tangata whenua in the 21st century. The author's journey resonates with me although there are naturally many differences. I'm two years younger than the author and grew up in the shadow of Maungakiekie rather than in a succession of country towns but the social and political movements she was involved in also had an impact on me. Like the author I have been blessed to have Maori whanau and colleagues who have helped me see situations and history through another lens. It is and has been discomforting and unsettling but it also gives me a stronger sense of who I am in Aotearoa, of the ways in which those Irish tupuna who came here in the 1860s still influence me, of the ways in which they and I have benefited from the colonization of this land, and that a more equitable future starts with owning the past and being ready to observe listen and enter into a dialogue with tangata whenua.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Merryn Turner

    I just inhaled this book in one sitting, and cried uncontrollably for ten minutes after finishing it about identity formation and multitudes of past, present and future self. This was powerful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    I identify with so many aspects of this. I am pākehā, not New Zealand European. My being is shaped by this country. But, I am not Māori. My family have benefited and made lives from the colonisation and mistreatment of Māori. I am still working things out in my head.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A disarming book. Wonderfully well written for an academic( I read an interview with Jones in which she says this is a real bugbear of hers, how badly many academic writers write), a very clear, well crafted and unpretentious prose-style. Jones uses her life story and that of her parents and ancestors in the first part of the book and - as a pakeha NZer - I was able to use this to compare my own family story and it brought up a lot of memories and made me reflect on the similarities of our famil A disarming book. Wonderfully well written for an academic( I read an interview with Jones in which she says this is a real bugbear of hers, how badly many academic writers write), a very clear, well crafted and unpretentious prose-style. Jones uses her life story and that of her parents and ancestors in the first part of the book and - as a pakeha NZer - I was able to use this to compare my own family story and it brought up a lot of memories and made me reflect on the similarities of our families journeys to NZ. The political struggles of the seventies and 80's were familiar. I remember writing an essay about Donna Awatere's Maori Sovereignty in 1986 in my second year at univeristy and thinking that while interesting and important that possibly it was a bit extreme....of course it was and this is a lot of what Jones seeks to address: the outlines and limits of her experience as a pakeha interacting with Maori political movements in real time as Maori political consciousness and decolonisation evolved. Even Donna Awatere rejected much of what she wrote later when she became a neo-liberal libertarian ACT MP. It seems to me Jones is seeking to share a lifetime of thoughts and reflections about being pakeha and how it bumps up against Maoridom. This becomes especially pointed in her experiences at the university of Auckland where she faces criticism from more separatist colleagues who dislike her working in the Maori space and she writes about the issues this raises with great thought and clarity. I'm glad she's there to share her wisdom because many of us pakeha are a bit afraid to interact on Maori issues becasue we don't want to step on any landmines. The book is full of the everyday wisdom of the Maori women in her life, an old school friend ignores the strident young political Maori at her marae who tell her off for doing the wrong thing, her friend says she doesn't care, she grew up in the community and she has her own rules. Jones shares many examples of how despite the febrile political environment at times that with good will these things resolve themselves over time and the important thing is to be open minded and keep trying. I learned so much from this book, a real gem.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I was looking forward to reading this book, and it is an easy read and makes some interesting points. I came away with a feeling that the author has never quite found what she was looking for. And the relationship she so desired with Māori hasn't eventuated to the extent she would like. I often got a 'what can you do for me vibe' and perhaps that's the reason why. I appreciate the author's honesty, particularly when recounting times she might look back on with embarrassment. We can probably all I was looking forward to reading this book, and it is an easy read and makes some interesting points. I came away with a feeling that the author has never quite found what she was looking for. And the relationship she so desired with Māori hasn't eventuated to the extent she would like. I often got a 'what can you do for me vibe' and perhaps that's the reason why. I appreciate the author's honesty, particularly when recounting times she might look back on with embarrassment. We can probably all learn something from these annecdotes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan Organ

    A European woman’s struggle to find her place within the racial divide that exists in NZ. The author also puts to words a few of the “elephant in the room” feelings I’ve had growing up in NZ. Pg 138 “ Like many New Zealanders who finally learn the facts of our country’s colonisation, I felt outraged. It was impossible to not be appalled by the violence, lies and threats of the settler government and British forces in the 1860s ...” Although the author is an academic, the book reads more like a nov A European woman’s struggle to find her place within the racial divide that exists in NZ. The author also puts to words a few of the “elephant in the room” feelings I’ve had growing up in NZ. Pg 138 “ Like many New Zealanders who finally learn the facts of our country’s colonisation, I felt outraged. It was impossible to not be appalled by the violence, lies and threats of the settler government and British forces in the 1860s ...” Although the author is an academic, the book reads more like a novel and is easy to get into. I’m glad I read this book. We both live in NZ and I hope I get the chance to somehow meet this author for a korero.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    A library book that spoke to me so loudly I went out and purchased it. I am on my own journey of balancing my pride in my forbears arriving and carving out a new life in a new land and my guilt at the way the Māori were treated and disadvantaged as this happened. There were several parts of this memoir that I want to highlight and write notes in the margin of the book of how I relate to them and how they relate to me (hence having to buy a copy). What the reviewers would call "zingers". I thoroug A library book that spoke to me so loudly I went out and purchased it. I am on my own journey of balancing my pride in my forbears arriving and carving out a new life in a new land and my guilt at the way the Māori were treated and disadvantaged as this happened. There were several parts of this memoir that I want to highlight and write notes in the margin of the book of how I relate to them and how they relate to me (hence having to buy a copy). What the reviewers would call "zingers". I thoroughly endorse this book as something that should be read by all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anne Williams

    Thanks to Alison Jones for taking me one step further in my understanding of my identity as a Pakeha New Zealander and to my partner Keith for buying this for my birthday. Alison's reflections cover a lot of ground - growing up in regional New Zealand in the 1950s and 60s, sharing the impressions she absorbed (sometimes accurately, sometimes not to her own dismay and astonishment) regarding Maori life and culture and also reviewing those impressions through her evolving understanding of life, his Thanks to Alison Jones for taking me one step further in my understanding of my identity as a Pakeha New Zealander and to my partner Keith for buying this for my birthday. Alison's reflections cover a lot of ground - growing up in regional New Zealand in the 1950s and 60s, sharing the impressions she absorbed (sometimes accurately, sometimes not to her own dismay and astonishment) regarding Maori life and culture and also reviewing those impressions through her evolving understanding of life, historic and current events and society through a Maori lens, led by colleagues and friends she has made throughout her professional career as an Academic within the University of Auckland. I could relate to many of her personal observations - learning an expression or word in te reo that expresses or describes something in a way no english word can, finding a relationship within the land that is more than simply a landscape. She has taken me further in my journey as a descendant of European settlers in understanding how the process of colonisation impacted and still impacts today, displacing, marginalising and suppressing. She offers insights into the role Pakeha need to play today (or not play) to enable Maori voices to be heard on their own terms and for the Maori world view to further permeate our culture and take us forward to, hopefully, a better place. But she offers no easy answers - our history is not easy listening and our future requires a te ao Pakeha reset which is uncomfortable to most of us, regardless of how progressive we may think we are.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Selina

    I placed this memoir under the Teachers category although this memoir isn't about really about teaching or teachers even though the author is a professor and researches in education, but it's more about learning than anything else. Pakeha is the Maori term for European New Zealanders, or anyone not Maori or more generally anyone who is 'white.' As a second generation english immigrant growing up in New Zealand, Alison is confused about her identity in the land. Only by relating to Maori and their I placed this memoir under the Teachers category although this memoir isn't about really about teaching or teachers even though the author is a professor and researches in education, but it's more about learning than anything else. Pakeha is the Maori term for European New Zealanders, or anyone not Maori or more generally anyone who is 'white.' As a second generation english immigrant growing up in New Zealand, Alison is confused about her identity in the land. Only by relating to Maori and their relationship to the land can she find peace or the identity she is seeking. She recalls her family is subtly racist and separates themselves from Maori, even though she grows up in two worlds. She then decides to place her son, even though he's regarded as Pakeha and she'd married a Pakeha, in a Kohanga Reo or Maori language kindergarten, hoping he would learn the language which she finds it difficult to learn and remember as an adult. Her son, ends up being somewhat bullied and mocked when he finds out that he isn't actually Maori. White liberal guilt? Or something else? This book is an interesting exploration about confronting people's ignorance about the past that is just beneath our feet in Aoteoroa. Uncovering some skeletons in the family closet she makes some connections, but it's more of a tribute to a friendship she makes with a fellow Maori scholar who teaches her about Maori ways and a complex history that she had been ignorant of.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    This book was well-written and compelling. I admire the author's honesty - there were some moments that I found a bit cringe-inducing, such as when she meets up with an old school friend who turns out not to have been a close friend at all, her memories of the girl's home based on Maori stereotypes rather than reality. That episode was kindof indicative of a discomfort I had with the whole book - Maori as the other, with the structure of the book almost being "Maori I have met." In one sense, I This book was well-written and compelling. I admire the author's honesty - there were some moments that I found a bit cringe-inducing, such as when she meets up with an old school friend who turns out not to have been a close friend at all, her memories of the girl's home based on Maori stereotypes rather than reality. That episode was kindof indicative of a discomfort I had with the whole book - Maori as the other, with the structure of the book almost being "Maori I have met." In one sense, I kindof get it - the idea that any notion of Pakeha identity is by definition developed in relation/in response to Maori. But it also feels reductive. I think there are other intersecting factors/influences on Pakeha identity that also need to be considered for a more comprehensive understanding. It's also reductive for Maori, with the episodes recounted obliquely casting the Maori individuals as representative of all Maori - even though it is clear the author is not intending that. Nonetheless, I related to the author's story. My grandparents were £10 Poms so much of her story resonated, with her voice as a 2nd generation Pakeha reminding me of my mother, also a 2nd generation Pakeha. Perhaps the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations' stories will be different again? And what of Pakeha whose families have already been here much longer? The only conclusion I can reach is we need more stories, more tales of being Pakeha.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna Mahoney

    I identified so much with this wonderfully written account of growing up in a white New Zealand surrounded by a (mostly) unseen people and culture and gradually becoming aware of the profoundly different world those ‘others’ inhabit. So much has changed since the sixties and Alison Jones’ chronicle of her unsettling engagement with Māori as a child, a feminist and pākehā academic is profound and engaging. I love the humility of revealing her mistakes, like the childhood friend who turned out to I identified so much with this wonderfully written account of growing up in a white New Zealand surrounded by a (mostly) unseen people and culture and gradually becoming aware of the profoundly different world those ‘others’ inhabit. So much has changed since the sixties and Alison Jones’ chronicle of her unsettling engagement with Māori as a child, a feminist and pākehā academic is profound and engaging. I love the humility of revealing her mistakes, like the childhood friend who turned out to be something quite different and, near the end of the book, Jones’s mortifying and literal slap on the hand for questioning a kaumātua’s memory of events. The revelation that she is not the first generation Kiwi she thought herself to be moved me deeply, having had a parallel revelation of much deeper engagement with Māori by my own family than my terribly English parents would possibly have embraced. This is a book for every pākehā who wants to deepen their understanding of our place in this land, and of how relationships rather than solutions are the path to that knowledge.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gillian

    I bought this book because it was by Alison Jones. I still remember Alison Jones's research that was published in 1991. "At school I've got a chance: culture/privilege: Pacific Islands and pakeha girls at school". At the time I was working in education and found her insights illuminating, helping me better understand how schools and teachers fail to help some groups of students despite their best intentions. I was looking forward to being similarly challenged and inspired by "This Pākehā Life" a I bought this book because it was by Alison Jones. I still remember Alison Jones's research that was published in 1991. "At school I've got a chance: culture/privilege: Pacific Islands and pakeha girls at school". At the time I was working in education and found her insights illuminating, helping me better understand how schools and teachers fail to help some groups of students despite their best intentions. I was looking forward to being similarly challenged and inspired by "This Pākehā Life" and wasn't disappointed. Her memoir is engaging and honest, by which I mean that she opens up about her mistakes, faux pas and differences of opinions with colleagues. I'll be re-reading and thinking about this book for some time to come and look forward to discussing it with others. I wish I'd picked it as my 2021 book group choice.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Angela Campbell

    Firstly, I must say that I found this book essential reading for New Zealanders and indeed anybody who is struggling with their relationship with the indigenous people of their home country. Secondly, I don’t think our experiences are necessarily the same, that this book Is intensely personal so we may not arrive at the same endpoint. I admire Alison Jones for writing such a timely and perceptive memoir as she traces her childhood as a child of English immigrants. One wonders if she would have b Firstly, I must say that I found this book essential reading for New Zealanders and indeed anybody who is struggling with their relationship with the indigenous people of their home country. Secondly, I don’t think our experiences are necessarily the same, that this book Is intensely personal so we may not arrive at the same endpoint. I admire Alison Jones for writing such a timely and perceptive memoir as she traces her childhood as a child of English immigrants. One wonders if she would have become such an ardent social justice advocate if she came from a longer line of NZ settlers? We can be thankful that she has committed herself to exploring her sense of identity to enable her to bring such perspective to an uncomfortable subject.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Interesting look at the move from being NZ European to being Pakeha. Alison Jones using her own growth in knowledge and awareness of Maori culture to explain this transition. As a relatively recent immigrant and an academic she explains the experiences that changed her views and determined her sometimes uncomfortable position position in the academic world. The book is a personal and anecdotal account of this process. I felt at times her personal reflection was overdone and I could not identify Interesting look at the move from being NZ European to being Pakeha. Alison Jones using her own growth in knowledge and awareness of Maori culture to explain this transition. As a relatively recent immigrant and an academic she explains the experiences that changed her views and determined her sometimes uncomfortable position position in the academic world. The book is a personal and anecdotal account of this process. I felt at times her personal reflection was overdone and I could not identify with some of the reactions. However generally I really enjoyed this book and it helped me grapple with my own issues of being pakeha in this country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Doug Dillaman

    Terrific. I was skeptical when I first saw this on shelves, not knowing anything about Alison Jones and imagining a worst-case scenario version of this book. Thankfully, I listened to a friend who exhorted its virtues and it may well be the most important book I read this year, an adjective that undersells its compulsive readability but not its impact on my personal understanding of my place in Aotearoa's society. Highly recommended to all Kiwis. Terrific. I was skeptical when I first saw this on shelves, not knowing anything about Alison Jones and imagining a worst-case scenario version of this book. Thankfully, I listened to a friend who exhorted its virtues and it may well be the most important book I read this year, an adjective that undersells its compulsive readability but not its impact on my personal understanding of my place in Aotearoa's society. Highly recommended to all Kiwis.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Margot McLean

    Really interesting, thought provoking, honest account of an activist woman’s development of her pākehā identity over a lifetime of grappling with Māori-Pākehā relatinships in Aotearoa New Zealand. I especially valued the insight that the Māori world view is based on relationships between things and people, whereas western models conceive of discrete people and things, and searches for answers and end-points.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ross

    Not since the pleasure of reading Being Pakeha and Being Pakeha Now have I had book that asks me to think critically about who I am and my place in Aotearoa. I often wonder what King would make of 2021 and the place we have moved to. Jones makes you ask how far have we actually come? The personal nature of the narrative helps recall events and interactions in my own life. A challenge, a hurdle, a gem. I borrowed this book; I will be buying copy of my own

  19. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    This is a kindly disarming book. Jones offers her own experiences to weave an insightful story of discovering her evolving sense of identity as Pākehā. She speaks clearly on how to approach living in discomfort with the issues of race, place, and culture, and how our collective relationships make us. It's the relational aspect of Pākehā to Māori that is the heart of this book, and ultimately it's an invitation to reflect and think harder about who we are in this place, and that shapes us. This is a kindly disarming book. Jones offers her own experiences to weave an insightful story of discovering her evolving sense of identity as Pākehā. She speaks clearly on how to approach living in discomfort with the issues of race, place, and culture, and how our collective relationships make us. It's the relational aspect of Pākehā to Māori that is the heart of this book, and ultimately it's an invitation to reflect and think harder about who we are in this place, and that shapes us.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jeannie

    Very interesting memoir. The author seems a similar age to me, with children of the same age, so we lived through the same times (although she was at the forefront of social change, and I was an observer/bystander). Social change seems very different in retrospect - and we all the better for people who take up challenges and push the social boundaries.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Carlyon

    Alison's account of the pākehā identity was honest and raw. This book has made me question my identity and the space I take up in Aotearoa. It's sparked my journey of understanding the uncomfortable existence as a pākehā and the role we play in the decolonisation and creation of a better Aotearoa moving forward. Alison's account of the pākehā identity was honest and raw. This book has made me question my identity and the space I take up in Aotearoa. It's sparked my journey of understanding the uncomfortable existence as a pākehā and the role we play in the decolonisation and creation of a better Aotearoa moving forward.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carol Griffiths

    This was a fascinating and gripping memoir about the challenges of working out what it means to be a pakeha in New Zealand today. Alison Jones evokes wonderfully her childhood and young adult years in relation to social changes that coloured that period.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caroline Barron

    Reviewed here for Kete: https://www.ketebooks.co.nz/all-book-... Reviewed here for Kete: https://www.ketebooks.co.nz/all-book-...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Pasang Sherpa

    Wonderful reading, delving into identity and being pākehā in Aotearoa. Would recommend.

  25. 4 out of 5

    James Elliott

    This memoir is confronting and compelling. And beautifully written.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Scrimgeour

    Well worth a read but one person’s unique experiences are hardly normative. Well written.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen Stokes

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing

  28. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    "An Unsettled Memoir" - an unsettling, very good book that made me think deeply, challenges unexamined beliefs and ideas about identity. "An Unsettled Memoir" - an unsettling, very good book that made me think deeply, challenges unexamined beliefs and ideas about identity.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nichols

    An excellent read. Very relatable by this Pākehā; I share many of the impressions Jones writes about having grown up quite close to many of the places she mentions.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This book is amazing! How is this the first time I'm hearing about Alison Jones? This book is amazing! How is this the first time I'm hearing about Alison Jones?

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