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Making friends with Mansfield, Ashlee Nelson

Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir
Sarah Laing
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776560691

The graphic form is in some ways a more complex undertaking than straightforward prose, for a graphic text must concern itself not only with the words of the narrative, but the art. Even more than this, the words and the art in a good graphic work should add to the meaning of the text by the way the two work skilfully together. In Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir, both the words and the art belong to Sarah Laing. Laing is a writer, a cartoonist, and a graphic designer by trade and she has applied her skills to each in a uniquely beautiful way. Nor is this the only synthesis accomplished by the book: Mansfield and Me is both a biography, of sorts, of Mansfield, and an autobiographical narrative.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

The scars remain; the story must be told,  Helena Wiśniewska Brow

Budapest Girl: An Immigrant Confronts the Past
Panni Palásti
Matai River Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473343712

“Who wants to talk about the past anymore? And who wants to hear?” It’s a challenge to the author from a former Budapest schoolmate, one that haunts this memoir’s final pages. For Panni Palásti, though, it’s no deterrent; her friend’s reaction shows only the new cultural disconnect between them. “Vali’s 1944,” she writes, “is different from mine.”

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Turning a blind eye, Rae Varcoe

Doctors in Denial: The Forgotten Women in the “Unfortunate Experiment”
Ronald W Jones
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522438

My first acquaintance with National Women’s Hospital was as a final-year medical student in 1968. It was an unpleasant experience of an utterly alien culture, disturbingly hostile to women in general, with women medical students being no exception. Just how indifferent the hospital medical profession was to the wellbeing of those in its care did not become publicly apparent until the publication of Sandra Coney’s and Phillida Bunkle’s Metro piece “Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” in 1987, which led to the Cartwright enquiry the following year.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction and Review

Wrenching love, Harry Ricketts

Boundaries: People and Places of Central Otago
Brian Turner (Steve Calveley photographer)
Godwit, $45.00,
ISBN 9781775538318

Early in this composite prose-poetry miscellany about Central Otago, Brian Turner quotes with approval from the English poet Edward Thomas’s “The Mountain Chapel”: “When gods were young / This wind was old.” Which is apt, as Turner could be seen as a kind of local literary descendant of Thomas. (Thomas died from a bomb-blast at Arras on Easter Monday exactly a hundred years ago.) Both are born-again countrymen, chroniclers and champions of vanishing rural worlds. Both have a powerful “retrospectroscope”, as Turner calls it, through which to stare at past and present. Their poems offer a tough celebration of the natural world and its processes, also a downbeat, dented lyricism. Both are blessed, or plagued, by an honesty others sometimes find awkward. Such analogies can be pushed too far, but this one helps to pinpoint something of what makes Turner so distinctive a voice and presence among contemporary New Zealand writers.

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Posted in Non-fiction and Review

Cartoonist with bite, Dinah Priestley

Murdoch: The Cartoons of Sharon Murdoch
Sharon Murdoch (with commentary by Melinda Johnston)
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947503239

Anne Tolley crouches watchfully inside a beneficiary’s uterus, high heels digging into the soft pink flesh, her two fists blocking the fallopian tubes. The cartoon is startling, funny and elegant. Labelled “Reproductive Politics”, it illustrates the Health Minister’s remark that she wanted to find ways to stop “at risk” beneficiaries having more children. I used to believe that most of us women do not have the bite to be successful editorial cartoonists. But I was wrong. The editorial cartoons of Sharon Murdoch have plenty of bite and anger, which she manages to combine with elegance and subtlety. In seven years, Murdoch has gone from being the cartoonist of her popular crossword cat Munro to being represented as editorial cartoonist in major New Zealand papers, notably the Press, Dominion Post, Waikato Times and Sunday Star Times.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology

Demythologising, Mike Grimshaw

Sacred Histories in Secular New Zealand
Geoffrey Troughton and Stuart Lange (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776560950

My late grandmother was a Presbyterian, who had some Catholic friends. They lived in working-class Stanley Point (when it was working-class) in Devonport. During the week, they existed very happily as friends and neighbours. But, on a Sunday, according to family lore, my nana, despite her bad hips, would walk the long way to church so she didn’t have to go past – and therefore acknowledge the existence of – the Catholic church. Apparently, her friends did the same thing in reverse. They were lives in which religious identity and practice were important components, yet these did not create sectarian communities, as during the week they lived interrelated non-sectarian lives. These were the respectable working class, whose children became middle-class, but a middle class that was still religious in framing culture and ethos, if not so regular practice, into the 1980s. Up to the end of the 1980s – and longer in the provinces and rural areas – there was still a large swathe of broad-church Protestantism and Catholicism in New Zealand.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Religion, Review and Sociology

Writing about writing, Anne Else

Talk of Treasure  Jane Carswell Submarine, $35.00, ISBN 9780994137913 How do you depict the process of writing? Very few of the many films about writers try to show their protagonist actually doing it. Doctor Zhivago demonstrates why: Omar Sharif sits

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Poetic truths, Helen Heath

In a Slant Light: A Poet’s Memoir Cilla McQueen Otago University Press, $35.00, ISBN 9781877578717 When I read Elizabeth Knox’s personal essays The Love School, in 2008, I finally realised that a writer’s past is whatever they say it is.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Treaty flows, Alex Calder

Treaty of Waitangi: The Land is Our History: Indigeneity, Law, and the Settler State  Miranda Johnson Oxford University Press, $41.00, ISBN 9780190600020 Reconciliation, Representation and Indigeneity: “Biculturalism” in Aotearoa New Zealand   Peter Adds, Brigitte Bönish-Brednich, Richard S Hill, Graeme

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Posted in History, Maori, Non-fiction, Politics & Law and Review

Downtown voices and sugar-rush diction, David Cohen

The Journal of Urgent Writing 2016 Nicola Legat (ed) Massey University Press, $40.00, ISBN 9780994130068 Tell You What 2017: Great New Zealand Nonfiction  Susanna Andrew and Jolisa Gracewood (eds) Auckland University Press, $30.00, ISBN 9781869408602 If I had to name

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review
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