27 December, 2016

Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera

The protagonist David has everything a man could wish for – a loving wife and two adorable daughters, successful university career and good friends. He also has another life in “the Gardens of Spain”, places of encounter for gay and bisexual men.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The book is a story of a gay person coming out. It is Witi Ihimaera’s first novel centred on gay characters, radically different from his earlier Maori writing. Its main focus, and the strongest part, is on a family drama, relationships between a husband and wife, father and daughters, son and parents. Family problems are nothing new, yet the challenges faced by sexual minorities in keeping up with conventional family standards have hardly been addressed in literature.

The narrative shifts in time, looking back into the protagonist’s school years, personality development, career challenges, sexual attractions and experiences. There are lots of gay sex scenes and descriptions of naked male bodies.

Apart from David’s story, the novel shows the lives of other gay men in Auckland in the 1990s, “the lost boys”, as the author calls them. Not all of them, as the main character, are married fathers who had to conceal their identities. Some may look happier than others, while each is still “unhappy in his own way”. The book touches on such issues as HIV, drugs, depression, loneliness and suicide.

Author: Witi Ihimaera

Recommended by Maria M, Central Library

Maria M believes reading is the best way to understand other people and places. She is an avid bilingual reader who is particularly interested in New Zealand fiction.

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