Blog Archives

Colonial orientalism, Paula Morris

Galleries of Maoriland: Artists, Collectors and the Māori World, 1880–1910 
Roger Blackley
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869409357

The cover image of Roger Blackley’s impressive new book is a famous one: a tea break in Charles Goldie’s frame-stacked studio in 1901, Pātara Te Tuhi holding cup and saucer, his trousers and dusty boots visible below the sweep of his woven cloak. Both men seem deep in thought. Goldie – starched collar, shiny boots – was just 30, recently returned from studies in Paris; he’d seen a number of Gottfried Lindauer’s Māori portraits at the 1898–99 Auckland exhibition and begun his own rise to national fame.

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Posted in Art, History, Non-fiction, Review

“Evolution or revolution?”, Simon Upton

The New Biological Economy: How New Zealanders are Creating Value from the Land
Eric Pawson and the Biological Economies Team
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869408886

Having lived away from New Zealand for the best part of 15 years, I was delighted to read The New Biological Economy. In one fell swoop, its 13 crisp chapters brought me up to date with many very significant changes that have been transforming the land and landscapes of this country. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review

Going high, Julia Millen

To the Mountains: A Collection of New Zealand Alpine Writing
Laurence Fearnley and Paul Hersey (eds)
Otago University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781988531205

Since the arrival of Pacific peoples, New Zealand’s mountains have enthralled and enchanted. Māori revered the craggy peaks from afar while they forged ways through the hinterland. The first European explorer, Abel Tasman, sailing to the Southern Ocean in 1642, recorded the sighting of “a large land, uplifted high”. Captain Cook’s crew were bent on “conquest” in more ways than one. This collection features the 1998 re-enactment by 13 climbers of the 1773 ascent of Mt Sparrman in Fiordland, made by a party from Cook’s second voyage on the Resolution.

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Posted in History, Literature, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

A critical lamp in a dark world, Helen Watson White

Charles Brasch: Journals 1958-1973
Charles Brasch, selected by Peter Simpson
Otago University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9781988531144 

“How many existences one leads at once,” wrote Dunedin poet, critic, patron and Landfall editor Charles Brasch in 1958: 

I am here with LF work & household chores … I am haunted by the state of the world – the Near East, nuclear tests, the fear of war; I live through Dr Zhivago & its world; Rodney’s & Douglas’s worlds & those of other friends, & Emily [Forsyth]’s, & the de Beers at Raasay now; & Andrew who has gone to Adelaide is with me constantly; & as I prepare to go to Chch tomorrow Pearl draws near, & Harry & Margaret (whose house at Clifton, 31 Tuawera Terrace, has at last been sold, to their immense relief, although it doesn’t pay off all their debts; & J[ames Bertram] will be in Chch at the weekend; Kate, Tim, Penny [Thompson]; & I must see Ruth France … the list goes on & on. And my own life winds through all these in its own way. 

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review

A singular genius, Andrew Wood

Colours of a Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid
Anna Cahill
Mary Egan Publishing, $80.00,
ISBN 9780473423834

Over the decades, New Zealand has lost a tragic amount of cultural talent overseas for many reasons: the old bashing machine drives them away, cultural cringe makes the appeal of Europe and North America irresistible, or politics, or unconventional sexuality. Some have gone on to become very famous indeed – Frances Hodgkins and Katherine Mansfield, for example. The phenomenon is even responsible for an entire genre of New Zealand literature, resulting in several novels and biographies and biographical sketches by James McNeish, and Martin Edmond’s excellent The Expatriates. Anna Cahill’s Colours of Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid is a wonderful addition to that body of work.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction

Unpleasant truths, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins

Theo Schoon: A Biography
Damian Skinner
Massey University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780995100176

Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love
Joanne Drayton
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781988531267

There has long been an uneasiness on the part of local biographers when it comes to homosexual subjects. In literary terms, this can be traced to Michael King’s Frank Sargeson: A Life (1995), the first major biography of this type. King, then not yet a literary biographer, but a consummate researcher of Māori subject matter, demonstrated the standard Kiwi male’s distaste for homosexuality. The result was a tepid and unsatisfying work that has done Sargeson’s cultural longevity no favours. Without any active influential queer voice to argue the contrary, Sargeson entered the canon of modern biography, and King was lauded as the nation’s literary biographer.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

Making it and making it up, C K Stead

Life as a Novel – A Biography of Maurice Shadbolt, Volume I, 1932-1973
Philip Temple
David Ling, $45.00,
ISBN 9781927305447

Recently, I have been writing an autobiography and consequently hunting out old letters. One I found, written to Kay from London in 1984, told her about getting started on a new novel, the one that would be called The Death of the Body: 

4½ pages written. I’m away – a start. Probably now I won’t run into trouble for 40 or 50 or with a bit of luck 60 pages. We’ll see. What a strange and dangerous business it is, writing fiction. So much investment of self in a leaking ship. No wonder Shadbolt goes around the bend with the effort. I ought to have been kinder to him. I have been a merciless sibling rival (even if it’s true he’s not much of a writer).

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction, Review

A view of the inner cemeteries, Reuben Johnson

Mind that Child: A Medical Memoir
Simon Rowley with Adam Dudding
Penguin, $35.00, ISBN 9780143771982

We can Make a Life: A Memoir of Family, Earthquake and Courage
Chessie Henry
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561940

Dr Simon Rowley is a Senior Consultant Neonatologist at the Auckland City Hospital, and Adam Dudding is an award-winning journalist. Mind that Child is Rowley’s professional memoir, in which he reflects on his experiences and career as a neonatologist and on his interest in neonatal brain development.

Chessie Henry is a freelance copywriter. We can Make a Life, her first book, is a family memoir centred around her father, a rural Kaikoura GP who was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal for his role in the collapsed CTV building following the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

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Posted in Health, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

The games we play, Owen Mann

Sport and the New Zealanders: A History
Greg Ryan and Geoff Watson
Auckland University Press, $65.00,
ISBN 9781869408831

On Christmas Day last year, many people around the country would have ripped open a well-wrapped gift to discover a sportsperson’s biography in their hands. A popular genre in New Zealand for many decades, these publications often span the brief career of the sportsperson and the figures who have influenced their lives. This Christmas it was NBA basketball star Steven Adams and league veteran Simon Mannering that were amongst the bestsellers. These books can, at times, be interesting and perceptive, but rarely explore beyond the biographical. If they do delve into the nature of sport and why it plays such an important part in New Zealand’s culture, then it is only for the particular sport the individual has excelled at, rather than sporting activities more generally, or how sport ties into the fabric of our society and culture.

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Posted in Non-fiction, Review, Sociology, Sport

Private life and public record, Kate Hannah

The Unconventional Career of Dr Muriel Bell
Diana Brown
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531304

Perhaps some are surprised that a scientist whose impact on New Zealand’s health, particularly the health of women and children, could have been, up until now, overlooked – but even this well-written, timely biography reveals much about how women’s lives and careers in the past are hidden from view.

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Posted in Biography, Health, Non-fiction, Review
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