Sense and intention
Thanks to Chris Else for the review of my latest novel Tu (NZB, December 2004). However a mistake has been made. In the third-to-last paragraph of the review there has been a misquotation from the book. The review quotes (misquotes): “There’ll be no more wars”. It should read: “there’ll be other wars”. The words of the misquotation are the influence for the comments and assumptions of the final paragraphs of the review.
I wanted to point this out because the sentence, and the whole paragraph surrounding it, are so vital to the sense and intention of the end part of the book. The paragraph reads: “So I ask one thing because there’ll be other wars. It’s my plea. I ask you not to follow in our footsteps, your fathers’ and mine. That’s all I’ll ever ask.”
This is simply an uncle, returned from war, now reflecting and deciding that two generations of men going to war in the family is enough. There has been enough trauma and enough loss. The nephew and niece to whom he is writing are the only two children from a family of five. That they were born at all has been a matter of rather frail circumstance – “Please know how precious you are.”
Tu, the uncle, depends on their agreement (ie that they not follow in his and their fathers’ footsteps) in order to feel that there is a reason he is still alive, a reason he returned from war when so many did not.
As for the other mistake, mine – the non-existent date – I am in two minds as to whether I should rectify it for the reprint or just smile upon it and let it be.
The central issue
It is interesting to have Gordon McLauchlan’s admission (NZB, March 2005) that he thinks the best journalism is fiction – as a journalist, he should know. Otherwise, in his response to my letter criticising the lack of substance in his article about reviewing standards, he ignores the central issue and tries to dismiss the criticism by abusing the critic. In particular, McLauchlan asks disingenuously who I am, as if this somehow makes my criticism invalid. All he needed to know in this case was evident in my letter: that I am a concerned reader of New Zealand Books. I would have mentioned that I was a founder and guest editor of New Zealand Books if I had thought that would add anything.
The regrettable thing in all this is that you, the current editors of New Zealand Books, chose to publish an article which claimed that reviewing standards in New Zealand were declining, but which provided not a shred of objective evidence in support. The arrogant bluster of McLauchlan’s response suggests that he too recognises the failings in his article, but cannot bring himself to admit them.
I might add that it was heartening to see in your March issue some well-informed commentary, and so many intelligent and thoughtful appraisals by reviewers who focused on the books rather than on themselves. (I could identify them but, pace Gordon McLauchlan, your readers will know who they are.) A welcome return to form.
Don Aimer’s characterisation of the 1951 Waterfront Lockout (NZB, March 2005) as a “strange moment in New Zealand history when a subculture of New Zealanders lost touch with the attitudes of their fellow citizens” would probably come as something of a surprise to the thousands of working class people around the country who at the time organised illegal solidarity strike action, but, more worryingly, it writes out a crucial piece of the long history of repression in our country. If the Waterside Workers’ Union’s values were foreign to others, this, in no small measure, was due to the fact that Holland’s National Government made it an offence for the press or others to publicise the union’s views. If a commitment to free speech is the attitude of only a “subculture”, then I stand in solidarity with them.
More disturbing again is the smug moralism that characterises Aimer’s lazy piece. Writing of the incredible hardships watersiders and their families endured, Aimer pontificates: “interesting to contemplate were the values which required young people to give up their studies to earn money so that their fathers could remain staunch.” Far more interesting to contemplate are the values of the National Party, official trade union bureaucracy and complicit Labour opposition who colluded to starve watersiders’ families, provoke an industrial showdown and smash a union committed to defending health and safety, members’ rights and conditions and decent rates of pay. Women in the dispute were active participants in the struggle and not the passive victims of “disruption” Aimer conjures.
The 1951 Waterfront Lockout remains one of the defining moments in New Zealand working class history and, to prepare for the struggles of the future, we need to understand its history accurately and politically. Don Aimer’s predictable liberal pieties don’t help us in this project.