Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall

Drawing from her own Māori and Coast Salish ancestry, Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall imagines Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Vancouver Island existing side-by-side, separated by a day’s journey via boat. The novel is told in evocative, richly described vignettes about women on both islands.

Tauhou successfully proves that a novel need not follow one plot or one set of characters to be wonderfully compelling.”

Tauhou is a rewarding novel for those who do not require a tight plot and strong narrative structure. Nuttall conjures an imagined history through snippets of the daily lives of various characters. Two women discover they are kin, though their family history is complicated. A young woman travels from her W̱SÁNEĆ community across to Aotearoa to warn the people there of a ship on their coast; there she discovers a surprising shared history between the communities. A young artist, adjusting to her new success, struggles with depression and self-loathing. A Māori woman is tattooed in the style of her ancestors by a woman from a different island. A girl facing her own displacement sees the ghosts of settlers arriving on Aotearoa. Each scenario, though only a few pages long, is vivid and contributes to this lovingly imagined world.

Nuttall skillfully depicts the histories of both Māori and Coast Salish peoples as distinct while also gesturing towards some of the shared experiences of colonized peoples, such as displacement, mental illness, alienation from one’s own community, and domestic violence. But while the novel never shies away from describing these realities, it is also profoundly hopeful, invested in futurity and the possibilities that come from solidarity, coalition-building, and community. Key to this optimism is the centering of queer Indigenous women doing the difficult work of re-establishing kinship bonds and imagining new ways of life. As Nuttall notes, the novel is not a factual depiction of these histories, but it works to reimagine and refashion history in order to make sense of the present and future.

While a novel told in fragments may not appeal to everyone, I am a reader who loves when fiction plays with structure and tests the boundaries of what a novel can be. Tauhou successfully proves that a novel need not follow one plot or one set of characters to be wonderfully compelling. Nuttall conjures a world that is both familiar and new, playing with the possibilities this alternate history provides. But it’s not simply a successful thought experiment: each vignette is wholly developed, each character so real, the beautiful, fluid prose contributing to a novel that you can sink into. The novel’s structural freedom supports the thematic backbone of reimagining what is possible for colonized peoples. Casting off convention, Nuttall confidently shows that to address the ongoing legacies of colonialism, we must change how we think of the future, art, and what is possible. I am confident that even readers who typically prefer more standard fiction will find something to love in this one.

KŌTUKU TITIHUIA NUTTALL (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, W̱SÁNEĆ) holds an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters. She won the 2020 Adam Foundation Prize and was runner-up in the 2021 Surrey Hotel-Newsroom writer’s residency award. She lives on the Kāpiti Coast of Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (April 11 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487011695
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487011697

Clementine Oberst is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in television studies. Born and raised in Toronto, she has lived in Montreal and Glasgow and now calls Hamilton home. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Clementine can be found knitting, trying to cultivate a green thumb, and playing with her cats. She loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book. You can connect with her on Instagram @clementinereads.