Blog Archives

Yesterday today, Glyn Harper

How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War
Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739353

With the centenary of WWI now upon us, a flood of books on New Zealand’s role in that conflict can be expected. The first of these appeared in late 2013, and this trend will continue for the next few years. Amongst the books on offer in 2014 is How We Remember: New Zealanders and the First World War edited by Charles Ferrall and Harry Ricketts. Few of the publications that will appear over the coming years will match How We Remember for its diversity or its insights.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Sociology, War

War stories, Anne Else

Passing Through
Coral Atkinson
Dancing Tuatara, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473262693

Jenny Pattrick
Black Swan, $37.00,
ISBN 9781775535850

Tropic of Guile
Sue McCauley
Xlibris, $42.00,
ISBN 9781483683195

All three of these novels centre on hard-won survival against the odds of poverty, violence and malice, offset by love, loyalty and friendship; but the clashes they chronicle range widely in time, place and complexity.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Outstanding achievement or pitiful war? Janet Hunt

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand
Eric Pawson and Tom Brooking (eds)
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781877578526

Making a New Land: Environmental Histories of New Zealand is a revised, expanded and renamed edition of Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford University Press, 2002). The new title is both more inviting and in keeping with an updated cover that clearly signals what is within: it is in attractive earthen tones and features William Sutton’s painting, Hills and Plains, Waikari 1956, in which the neatly segmented fields of the North Canterbury plains occupy the centre, framed at the top by tan-hued foothills and the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps and, at the bottom, by grey, featureless blocks of farm buildings. The dark shapes of macrocarpa windbreaks are conspicuous in the foreground and in the far distance. The view is devoid of indigenous vegetation, or animal or human life. It is a landscape that has been well and truly remade.

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Posted in History, Natural History, Review, Sociology

Continuity and change, Simon Murfitt

Above the City: A History of Otago Boys’ High School 1863-2013
Rory Sweetman
Otago Boys’ High School Foundation, $75.00,
ISBN 9780473247720

It was with some trepidation that I approached this book. It is a weighty hard-cover history, running to 440 pages, about Otago Boys’ High, a school I have no connection with. The cover photo is attractive, a watercolour of the grand school buildings overlooking the city, yet the photos inside are, as you’d expect, mostly a collection of black and white shots of staff, rectors, buildings, old boys and cadets. The book remained on my bedside locker for some months.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Worlds old and new, Nicholas Reid

Rosetta Allan
Penguin, $30.00
ISBN 9780143571025

James Cook’s New World
Graeme Lay
Fourth Estate, $37.00
ISBN 9781775540410

There’s one current phenomenon in New Zealand literature that I’m watching with great interest. It’s the fact that, with a few honourable exceptions (Hamish Clayton’s Wulf, Owen Marshall’s The Larnachs, and the historical reconstructions of Peter Wells), all the best New Zealand historical novels are now being written by women – Paula Morris’s Rangatira, Charlotte Randall’s Hokitika Town and The Bright Side of My Condition, Sarah Quigley’s The Conductor, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and (with minor misgivings) Tina Makereti’s Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

“The retrospective glance”, Bronwyn Dalley

Journey to a Hanging: The Events that Set New Zealand Race Relations Back by a Century Peter Wells Vintage, $45.00 ISBN 9781775533900 As a child, I owned a Webster’s Illustrated Dictionary. My brother had bought it in mail-order instalments over

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review

Larger than life, Simon Upton

Richard Seddon: King of God’s Own – The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Longest-serving Prime Minister
Tom Brooking
Penguin, $65.00
ISBN 9780143569671

I grew up in a very complacent country which didn’t really take its history seriously. New Zealand was the way it was (and it was the best of all worlds) and momentous history happened abroad. I recall the librarian at my secondary school pronouncing with lapidary finality that “New Zealand history is all out of date current affairs”. In the 1960s and 1970s, the evolution of the Cold War was much more exciting and, for the purposes of history teaching, the first two decades of the 20th century were devoted to the causes of WWI. New Zealand was a footnote.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction, Review

Ticking on by, Catherine Robertson

Carnival Sky
Owen Marshall
Vintage, $38.00
ISBN 9781775535827

The White Clock
Owen Marshall
Otago University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781877578632

Both of Marshall’s latest works centre on confrontations with mortality, and both do a fine job of showing that these are not always occasions for personal truth-seeking and comforting reminiscence, but also for less praiseworthy responses – resentment, selfishness, anger and outright head-in-the-sand denial.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

The cost of living, Don Brash

The New Zealand CPI at 100: History and Interpretation
Sharleen Forbes and Antong Victorio (eds)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739667

To my considerable surprise, I enjoyed this book, and learnt much more than I expected from the diversity of writers who contributed chapters.

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