Published: Lightning Books (September 2019)

ISBN: 9781785631528

The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke

Tina Makereti


‘A historical love letter to London, a coming-of-age story, a love story’ – Stella Duffy

SHORTLISTED: New Zealand Heritage Book Awards

LONGLISTED: Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

LONGLISTED: International Dublin Literary Award

James Pōneke is a young Māori orphan, raised by missionaries, with a burning desire to travel and explore the world. When an English artist on a tour of New Zealand invites James to return home with him, the boy eagerly accepts and agrees to become a living exhibit at the artist’s London show.

By day, James dresses in full tribal outfit, being stared at, prodded and examined by paying visitors. By night, he is free to explore the city, but anything can happen to a young New Zealander on the savage streets of Victorian London and James is unprepared for the wonders, dangers and unearthed secrets that await.

The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke is an unforgettable work of historical fiction in the spirit of Sarah Waters and Sarah Perry.





‘A historical love letter to London, a coming-of-age story, a love story… do yourself a favour, read it’

Stella Duffy

‘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

‘Made streets I’ve walked a thousand times seem new and strange’

Damian Barr

‘I loved it wholeheartedly and I want to read it all over again immediately’

Melissa Harrison


‘Hemi has a voice that redresses some of the air-brushed history of empire but more than anything his novel is a fascinating coming of age’

NB magazine

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

‘Beautifully written, gripping, it takes you somewhere new and different, and it’s just so readable. It’s brilliant’

Antonia Honeywell, Booktime Brunch



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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