Published: Lightning Books (August 2019)

ISBN: 9781785631528

The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke

Tina Makereti


Exhibited as a curiosity, a Māori boy turns his gaze on Victorian London


‘The hour is late. The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homewards I meet. But first I must finish my story for you. My future, my descendant, my mokopuna. Listen.’

So begins the tale of James Pōneke: orphaned son of a chief; ardent student of English; wide-eyed survivor. All the world’s a stage, especially when you’re a living exhibit. But anything can happen to a young New Zealander on the savage streets of Victorian London. When James meets the man with laughing dark eyes and the woman who dresses as a man, he begins to discover who people really are beneath their many guises.

Although London is everything James most desires, this new world is more dark and dazzling than he could have imagined.






‘A riveting vision of the world seen from the inside out. The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke is a gutsy, searing and totally absorbing read. I loved it all the way’

Fiona Kidman


The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke is many things: part unsparing colonial reckoning; part fraught coming-of-age memoir; part PT Barnum-inflected tale of spectacle, showmanship and the picaresque’

NZ Listener

‘Suggestive and thoughtful as well as being a very compelling story’

Louise O’Brien, Radio New Zealand

‘Like her previous Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, this novel relies on scrupulous research. It, too, revives the dry bones of history and turns it into a living and fascinating story’

Sunday Star-Times

‘Tina Makereti explores questions of identity, cultural collisions and Victorian attitudes to race, colonialism and prejudice... Fascinating reading’

Australian Woman’s Weekly

‘In a world that has privileged hierarchies and conflict, Tina’s novel is a welcome handbook on how to listen. It affected me deeply, at the level of both heart and mind. I am awarding it my 2018 Fiction Bouquet’

NZ Poetry Shelf



Tina Makereti

Tina Makereti’s first collection of stories, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa, won the inaugural Fiction Award at Nga Kupu Ora, the Māori Book Awards, in 2011. Her debut novel, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, won the same award in 2014, and was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. In 2016 she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific Region) for her story Black Milk.

Her second novel, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, was first published in New Zealand in 2018 and was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

She has a PhD in creative writing and teaches at Massey University in New Zealand.

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