Witi Ihimaera's The Trowenna Sea. I work at the bookshop on a Friday, and the owners are away so no-one's shifted the stack. I pick it up and put a lime-green post-it note on top for Laurie, 'Return these to Penguin. Due to plagiarism, they are reprinting and will replace.' I wonder about keeping them and selling them as they are - after all, surely everyone knows now that there are unacknowledged passages there. Surely, in a country as small as ours, the acknowledgment has been made - legally, morally - at least in part. Isn't that enough? Look at the size of the thing - think 0.4% plagiarised - think of the original work in there crying to be let out. Can't we get on and sell it? [note, it is already a bestseller...]
But Witi wants the book to regain its mana, he's asked for it back, and I suppose, in the end, it's his call. And his publisher supports him. Geoff Walker, my publisher too, sounded sad on the radio. He talked of their long relationship and how this would all be set right. I know how much the relationship matters to Geoff. Not long ago, he gave a dinner in Auckland for his fiction writers. He spoke of how important we are to him. With one novel to my name, I sat next to Witi, Witi sat next to Kapka. We drank good wine and ate good food. It was a good night.
But there it is, The Trowenna Sea - green-stickered - humiliated - waiting to return.
Witi Ihimaera is a literary hero of mine - I still remember the day I opened Pounamu Pounamu. I was a pakeha teenager with bunkbeds; it was night-time. I opened the green covers of that slim book and there was a world I didn't know existed - kicking and screaming, funny and moving, deeply alive. And then years later, Bulibasha: all that energy and charm and humour and love in the covers of one book. Whale Rider: the characters, the mythology, the magic. I can forgive Witi Ihimaera anything because he has given me so much. What's happened now can't wipe that out.
I am sickened by how fast the NZ public is to leap on a beloved writer's back and dig the spurs in, crying, 'You, storyteller, how dare you steal!' Storytelling is about stealing, writers always steal, it's just that we also have to turn what we steal inside out so it looks like something else. That is the issue. Why Witi did it, how he did it, I don't know and I can't say. I'm disappointed. I think he should have refused the money he won this week. But the spurs, people, why the spurs?
Working at a university, I know how wrong it is not to synthesise research. To put it bluntly, plagiarism is a bigger crime at university than murder - although Auckland Uni has, strangely, not demonstrated this. Anyway, all of this is about protecting original thought. I get that, so does Professor Witi Ihimaera. Hence the recall. Hence the green sticker. Let it rest at that.