Saturday, December 4, 2010

Paola Della Valle talks about writing From Silence to Voice

Why do I write on Maori literature?

I first became interested in New Zealand literature in the mid-1980s. I came in contact with some of Frank Sargeson’s stories during the Commonwealth Literature course I attended at the University of Torino, as part of the requirements for my bachelor’s degree in English literature, and I decided to write my bachelor’s thesis on him in 1986. When I went back to university in 2004 for my PhD I wanted to explore New Zealand culture and literature further.

I was soon attracted by the writing of Maori authors, in particular Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera, which seemed to be the big thing that had occurred in the previous 20 years in the New Zealand literary arena. I liked their spiritual approach to reality and their sense of humour, and I perceived the novelty of their English, which sounds extremely poetic to a foreign ear. I also recognised several affinities between Maori and Italian culture, which made me feel ‘at home’ when I read their stories. First of all, Maori have a notion of family that is similar to ours. Close bonds within extended families are still the basis of our society, which functions on alliances and personal contacts rather than on relying on an abstract sense of the state (this is the reason why Italians tend to apply the law in a ‘flexible’ way, creating many particular codes). Moreover, the affective and even sensual value that Maori give to food is something that characterises Italian culture too, as is their vocal way of expressing emotions, their love of singing, their openness and flexibility, and their search for communality even to the detriment of privacy.

I was not surprised when I read Grace’s novel Tu and found out that the soldiers of the Maori Battalion got along pretty well with local people during the Italian Campaign in World War II. And I think that Ihimaera’s use of Italian melodrama in The Matriarch evokes a physicality of emotions that Maori and Italians share and appreciate.

This fascination has driven me to write From Silence to Voice.

From Silence to Voice is already in its second print run in New Zealand through our distributors Publishers Distribution Limited (09 828 2999 or or from Lightning Source ( in the UK.

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