Book Review: Toroa by Erik Hofstatter

 “A novel full of action, full of human emotion and relationships, Toroa … is a view into the soul of one who is pushed until breaking and the darkness that can spill out as a result.”

 

Even a brief look at the synopsis for Toroa leaves the reader thinking that suspending one’s disbelief is going to be difficult. A complex tale of human suffering, taking place in a variety of locales, with just a smattering of the supernatural; there is a sense that there might simply be too much here to pull off. Thankfully, Erik Hofstatter shows he is more than up to the task.

Mahi, the protagonist, is a conflicted character. Living in small town England, the reader is introduced to her at a medieval fair. She is there with her closest friend and has her eye on a fire performer. One drunken triste later and she finds herself pregnant.

The attentions of her violently abusive mother cause her to flee, first to Finland and then to an island off New Zealand, where she herself was conceived, in search of her father, a man she has never met and, for all she knows, does not even know she exists.

If the plot sounds complex, it’s because it is. Events come thick and fast, with twists and turns that the reader can’t possibly expect around every corner. The real strength of this novel, though, is not in the tale, so much as in the characters.

Mahi’s journey from a young woman with emotional difficulties related to her upbringing into a vengeful figure of hate is one that is convincing and relatable. Her misfortune and ill-treatment beggars belief at times. Yet believe you do. Her instincts, even when they lead her to terrible decisions with disastrous consequences, fit with the maelstrom of horrific events within which she finds herself.

The book also deals sensitively with issues of womanhood, of child carrying and birth and the emotional highs and lows that this process burdens Mahi with. The introduction to the novel, by the exceptionally talented poet and novelist Stephanie M. Wytovich shines a light on these elements of the text with wonderful clarity, helping the reader to take more from these themes when they arise in the text.

A novel full of action, full of human emotion and relationships, Toroa also offers us a glimpse into the native Maori culture of New Zealand. More than anything though, it is a view into the soul of one who is pushed until breaking and the darkness that can spill out as a result.

KEV HARRISON

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Paperback: 239 (pps)
Release Date: 15 May 2018

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