Blog Archives

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 light, fantastic toe, Jennifer Shennan

Limbs Dance Company – Dance for All People, 1977–1989 
Marianne Schultz
Marianne Schultz in conjunction with DANZ, $40.00
ISBN 9780473407698

This book about Limbs, New Zealand’s brightest modern dance troupe, in its heyday in 1980s Auckland, is dedicated “for Sue Paterson, a dear and true friend”. Sue was the long-term General Manager of the company. How poignant, then, to be reviewing this book in the same week that we have farewelled the lifelong visionary arts administrator, who died after a prolonged illness that devastated her body, but never extinguished her spirit. Quite like Limbs really. Schultz has told the company’s story well, setting it in the context of its times. History will thank her for that and we should, too.

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Posted in Art, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

With thanks, Jane Westaway

Memory Pieces
Maurice Gee
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776562077

Anyone who has taken even a passing interest in Maurice Gee’s long career must be aware that his childhood has been the ongoing imaginative source of his fiction, and that he was unlikely to ever report on it in a memoir. Now, here comes his three-part Memory Pieces.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction

Patchwork, Lisa Warrington

These Two Hands: A Memoir Renée Mākaro Press, $38.00, ISBN 9780994137845 These Two Hands is the memoir of a woman’s life which is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. Born in Napier in 1929, Renée has lived through tumultuous times, both in

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

“A kind of undressing”, Elspeth Sandys

Dear Oliver: Uncovering a Pākehā History
Peter Wells
Massey University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780994143

Peter Wells is a wonderful writer, and this is almost a wonderful book.

Writing a family memoir (or, as the author calls this particular memoir, Uncovering a Pākehā History) is a risky business at the best of times, because no matter how extraordinary your family is – and Wells makes no claims for his to be other than what they are, unsung heroes of “ordinary” life – what will make or break the book is the quality of the mind interrogating those lives. Fortunately, what we have in Dear Oliver is a mind both well-informed – one of the many hats the author wears is that of historian – about the world he is imagining, sensitive to the inner lives of its citizens, and skilled at finding words that lift his tale out of the study into the bright light of lived experience.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Tracing trauma, Jane Westaway

Driving to Treblinka: A Long Search for a Lost Father
Diana Wichtel
Awa Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781927249406

How do human beings survive horror? The answer seems to be that they do and they don’t. Some part of them is crushed and never recovers; other parts move on, around and away from the trauma, carrying on to the best of any remaining ability. This is certainly so for Diana Wichtel’s father, the subject of her memoir Driving to Treblinka. Its subtitle echoes throughout the book: A Long Search for a Lost Father. A man who was lost to his daughter, her siblings and their wider family, to the grim forces of history, and to himself.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Women’s histories, Elizabeth Crayford

The Ventricle of Memory
Shelagh Duckham Cox, 
Shelagh Duckham Cox Co, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473363864

Casting Off
Elspeth Sandys
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780947522551

Shelagh Duckham Cox’s memoir, The Ventricle of Memory, begins in June 1940. Aged five, Shelagh and her younger siblings are on a train bound for north Wales, having left behind their substantial upper-middle-class home in Surrey, and “the people who used to look after our family”: the gardener, the gardener’s boy, nanny, housemaid, kitchen-maid and cook, as well as a much-loved grandmother. Her parents sit opposite them, and Shelagh watches her mother’s “secret smile” as she lights a cigarette, only to be interrupted by baby Katherine’s cry. “Do something,” her father says, and returns to his book.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Biting wit, with an undertow of melancholy, Jim Mora

Drawn Out: A Seriously Funny Memoir
Tom Scott
Allen and Unwin, $45.00,
ISBN 9781877505911


We all store trivial moments that hang around in the hippocampus for some sort of reason. I remember the late Kenny Everett on Capitol Radio in London back-announcing the song “Suspicious Minds” once. “I could have been Elvis”, he mused, “if only I’d had the talent, the looks and the voice.” Many of us who observe politics professionally to any extent have this sort of feeling when we compare our contributions with Tom Scott’s.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

The dangers of absolutism, John Larkindale

Balancing Acts: Reflections of a New Zealand Diplomat
Gerald McGhie
Dunmore, $35.00
ISBN 978927212318

Friends and relations often suggest to diplomats following their retirement that they should write a book about their experiences. Not so, in my view; the world has little to gain from the reminiscences of run-of-the-mill former officials, no matter how personally interesting, quirky or even challenging their lives may have been. There are, of course, exceptions, especially in cases where the author was substantively involved in critical diplomatic events of the day. Into this category, I place memoirs such as Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation, Anatoly Dobrynin’s In Confidence and, in a New Zealand context, Gerald Hensley’s Final Approaches.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

A bizarre, but very New Zealand, world, Jonathan Lane

Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult
Lilia Tarawa
Allen and Unwin, $37.00,
ISBN 9781760631499

Lilia Tarawa’s memoir, Daughter of Gloriavale, paints her childhood somewhere between an idyllic summer camp in the country and the winged bonnets and forced procreation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Tarawa grew up in Gloriavale, a fundamentalist Christian community nestled in prime moss-growing conditions on the West Coast, subject of a recent set of TV2 documentaries. Gloriavale is managed by male elders, roles defined strictly by gender, and closed off from the world, except for occasional trips to the Gomorrahs of Greymouth and Christchurch. Tarawa is a granddaughter of the original founder, Hopeful Christian, who runs Gloriavale with an iron fist and a disturbing criminal record. 

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