Beneath the Kauri Tree

Written by D.W. Lovett (trans.) Sarah Lark
Review by Ellen Keith

Second in Lark’s The Sea of Freedom Trilogy, Beneath the Kauri Tree is a family saga set primarily in 19th-century New Zealand, with a detour to Wales. Lark’s previous long works have focused on two or more female protagonists, contrasting a confident Maori woman with a more beleaguered Western European woman. In this book, those women are Matariki Drury, who is half-Maori and kidnapped from her boarding school by her chieftain father, and Violet Paisley, daughter of a loutish, drunken Welsh miner. Matariki handles her kidnapping and subsequent escape with aplomb, while Violet faces hardship after hardship with grimmer equanimity.

Lark covers a lot of territory in this tale. Matariki finds a kind of paradise in Parihaka, a Maori community dedicated to self-sufficiency and education exclusive of the pakeha (foreigners) but of course, European settlers assert their right to it and the Maori’s non-violent resistance is met with arrests. Matariki is spirited away by Colin Coltrane, the arrogant son of one of the protagonists of the first book in the trilogy. Meanwhile, Violet endures rape and marriage to her attacker, and finds her sympathies lie with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, primarily for their efforts towards suffrage. The women’s lives overlap in a number of ways, although they do not meet until much later in the book.

I’ve read Lark’s previous trilogy, In the Land of the Long White Cloud, and am a fan of hers. I remain a fan after this title, although I felt myself at a disadvantage, not having read the first in the trilogy as this one seemed informed by family dynamics explored in that one. Lark’s interest in New Zealand and its people, both Maori and pakeha, ignites a similar feeling in her readers. Do not be deterred by the length; it’s an engrossing read.