Blog Archives

Mingling the sacred and the profane, Martin Edmond

The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing
Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean (eds)
Penguin Books, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573098

Oddly enough – or perhaps not – when this book arrived at my door I remembered one of the more arcane customs recorded in Te Rangi Hiroa’s The Coming of the Māori: “Warriors before setting out on a military campaign,” he writes, “each in turn bit (ngau) the cross beam (paepae) of the latrine.” These were cliff-side toilets in hill forts and the cross beam was what you held onto while you shat into the void below. There was a strong tapu upon it, to prevent the theft of faecal matter for the purposes of sorcery; and the ceremony of the biting of the bar was attended by a tohunga chanting karakia considered protective of Te Hokowhitu a Tu as they went off to make war.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War

Obituary — Jack Body

Harmonious sensuality Ross Harris recalls the life and work of fellow-composer Jack Body (1944-2015) Jack Body was born in the small North Island farming town of Te Aroha to parents with little interest in music. Even so, he was playing

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Posted in Obituaries

Voices from the past, Jock Phillips

Remembering Gallipoli: Interviews with New Zealand Gallipoli Veterans
Christopher Pugsley and Charles Ferrall (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00
ISBN 9780864739919

Amid the flood of printed words that have marked the centenary of New Zealand’s Gallipoli experience, Remembering Gallipoli comes with, in every sense, the most history. The interviews on which the book is based were initially conducted in 1982 by four women, members of a media company, Bluestockings, as background research for Television New Zealand. There were 130 soldiers and one nurse interviewed, all in their late 80s or 90s. Chris Pugsley and Maurice Shadbolt then re-interviewed 21 (or 26 as Pugsley writes elsewhere) on camera. Extracts were used in the powerful 1984 documentary Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story and drawn on for Pugsley’s magnificent book in the same year with the same name. Shadbolt chose 12 of the subjects to tell their stories in his stirring Voices of Gallipoli (1988), a book which was a revelation to many, including Helen Clark, who read it on the plane flying to Gallipoli in 2000 when she conceived of a project to record the memories of WWII veterans.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War

Poem — Leonard Lambert

The Enamelled Box   When they unearth the mass graves and discover the rivers of blood, or even stop to puzzle over a million lost golf-balls, may they also find medical instruments of ingenious design and exquisite precision; Let them

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Posted in Poetry

On a human scale, Felicity Barnes

Holding on to Home: New Zealand Stories and Objects of the First World War
Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross
Te Papa Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9780987668851

One hundred years on, WWI continues to loom large in New Zealand life. With the advent of the centenary, New Zealand’s “Great War” has taken on a literally monumental scale, with new and revitalised memorial structures, including the dedication of a national public war memorial space. Anzac Day saw record attendances across the country: 10,000 turned out in Whangarei, whilst Rotorua’s crowds prompted the mayor to consider holding two services in future years. In Wellington, Te Papa’s exhibition [in conjunction with Weta Workshop and Richard Taylor], “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War”, is actually larger than life, using oversized models of service people in an attempt to represent the magnitude of New Zealand’s commitment.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review and War

Poem — Leonard Lambert

Hinterland   What lands lie east of here? North and south are known, and west, but to the east, to my left, the country folds in upon itself and falls away, rising in the near distance to a long tableland.

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Posted in Poem

Reviewing the reviewers

Matthew Wright reflects on the ethics of book reviewing

It’s some years since New Zealand Books published a wonderfully nasty litany of my supposed failures in a book I’d written on South Island settler society where, the reviewer insisted as an opening declaration, his own work had never been challenged in 30 years.

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Posted in Comment

Crime wave, Bernard Carpinter

Running Towards Danger
Tina Clough
Vanguard Press, $30.00,
ISBN 97811784650100

Blood, Wine and Chocolate
Julie Thomas
HarperCollins, $35.00
ISBN 9781775540533

Something Is Rotten
Adam Sarafis
Echo, $35.00
ISBN 9781760067762

New Zealand crime fiction is booming. The long list for the Ngaio Marsh Award this year comprised nine books and the five on the short list are all very good. Those books are, in no particular order, Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave, The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing, Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson, The Children’s Pond by Tina Shaw and Fallout by Paul Thomas.

Thomas and Cleave, in particular, have given New Zealand crime fiction credibility, their lively prose delivering crackling plots, larger-than-life characters and even humour. And they are distinctively Kiwi books; Thomas’s protagonist of five novels, Tito Ihaka, is Māori and well versed in the blunter forms of the Kiwi vernacular.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Lives shaped by the novelist, Elspeth Sandys

Death and Forgiveness
Jindra Tichá
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473306717

Rich Man Road
Ann Glamuzina
Eunoia Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780994104748

In a recent review in New Zealand Books, Jane Westaway commented on the rise, both in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, of the small press, a phenomenon directly attributable to the devouring appetite of the multinational conglomerates. Having charted the rise and rise of such monster publishing companies as Penguin Random House, and the corresponding disappearance, at least from the fiction market, of hitherto commercially successful local presses, Westaway went on to observe that, whereas in the past book editors (she herself is a past co-editor of New Zealand Books) were inclined to turn their noses up at the so-called “vanity press”, in today’s changed world of publishing, that response is no longer valid. Small presses are here to stay!

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

The colony’s resident expert of choice, Simon Upton

James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader
Simon Nathan
Geoscience Society of New Zealand, $45.00
ISBN 9781877480461

Simon Nathan’s biography of Sir James Hector fills a major gap in the nation’s historical bibliography. The reasons why the gap remained unfilled for over a century following Hector’s death are worth pondering. A cursory glance through Nathan’s bibliography reveals full length biographies of several of Hector’s scientific contemporaries, McKay, Haast, Buller, Davis and Murchison among them. But Hector’s life, despite his towering public stature in the development of 19th-century New Zealand, remained confined to an MA thesis in 1936 and a more recent doctoral thesis devoted to his early life.

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Posted in Biography, History, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review and Science
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