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Letters – Issue 127

Downsizing We hear about the problems of empty nesters, but seldom the difficulties of the bibliophile facing the downsizing of their book collections and the heartache that can ensue. Jane Westaway’s “Cohabiting Libraries” (NZRB Winter 2019) is an apt, amusing

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Lies and damned lies, Gyles Beckford

Truthteller
Stephen Davis
Exisle Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9781925335897

“Aren’t we all investigative journalists?” my colleague asked, as we lamented the quality of the coffee at an early hour in the newsroom kitchen.
“We’d all like to think so,” I replied. “But some of us are more investigative than others, perhaps.”

It was one of those innocent, non-committal exchanges prompted by the question, “What are you up to?”

At the base of my colleague’s question, of course, was the presumption that all journalists ask questions, investigate, probe, take nothing for granted, look for the spin, the obfuscation, the smokescreens … the bullshit.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review

Diplomat, translator, academic … Ken Ross

From Cairo To Cassino: A Memoir Of Paddy Costello
Dan Davin
Cold Hub Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473474485    

Paddy Costello’s forte was Russian scholarship. Dan Davin’s was academic publishing. Each acquired other formidable reputations by which they are better known to New Zealanders: Davin as a fiction writer, though his masterly tome Crete (1953) is a war history, and Costello as a Soviet spy, which he was not.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Watching the watchers, Ian F Grant

Dead Letters: Censorship And Subversion In New Zealand 1914–1920
Jared Davidson
Otago University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781988531526

Dead Letters contains intriguing detail about a random cast of now-forgotten people who were considered likely subversives in New Zealand during WWI. For their stories to be told at all, we have to thank both the pedantically plodding public-servant compilers of long-buried files and author Jared Davidson, an archivist by trade, for his skill in researching and giving human faces to the consequences of a government obsessively prying into private lives at times of perceived national crisis.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review, War

Searching for the whole truth, Bill Hastings 

Shirley Smith: An Examined Life
Sarah Gaitanos
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9781776562176

In Wellington, it is difficult to find a lawyer, judge, or even a member of the Mongrel Mob of a certain age, who does not have a Shirley Smith story. The stories are good and bad. Many are insignificant, but they offer insight into her character. I was told about her understandable hostility to a junior lawyer, who was sent to the Smith house in Brooklyn to retrieve and organise some of her husband Bill Sutch’s papers. Smith stuck to her like lichen each day for a fortnight while she did her job and never offered her a cup of tea. I was told that Smith struck up conversations with people she did not know, who had come to visit their own relatives at the rest home in which she lived at the end of her life. One of these people told me about her delight at meeting a friendly, highly intelligent old lady, who said she studied the classics at Oxford University. Those who attended her funeral at St Andrew’s still talk about the powerful haka that echoed up and down the Terrace.

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Posted in Biography, Non-fiction, Review

Marking time, Maggie Trapp

When It All Went To Custard
Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins, $35.00,
ISBN 9781775541417

The Julian Calendar
William Henry
Marsilio Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780958235556

What a difference a year can make. The plots of Danielle Hawkins’s When It All Went To Custard and William Henry’s The Julian Calendar both take place over exactly one year – just enough time to immerse readers in a rich story and see them through to the other side. While not the 24 hours Aristotle prescribed, these novels remind us that a year as a unity of time can still prove a useful device for portraying a full narrative arc.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Challenging, touching, persuading, Janet Hughes

How I Get Ready
Ashleigh Young
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 978176562367

The Dangerous Country Of Love And Marriage
Amy Leigh Wicks
Auckland University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781869408978

To The Occupant
Emma Neale
Otago University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781988531687

Judging a book by its cover would not be a cliché or a hazard, if so much design talent did not go into trying to make us do exactly that. Who, faced with a display of new books, has not followed the urging of the eye, probably at the expense of worthy competitors?

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Posted in Literature, Poetry, Review

Keeping it in the family, Tina Shaw

Necessary Secrets
Greg McGee
Upstart Press, $38.00,
ISBN 9781988516639

Loving Sylvie
Elizabeth Smither
Allen and Unwin, $37.00,
ISBN 9781988547114

Two recently-published novels explore inter-generational stories, yet there couldn’t be two more different treatments.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature, Review

Hurting in different ways, Veronica Maughan

Life On Volcanoes: Contemporary Essays
Janet McAllister (ed)
Beatnik Publishing, $25.00,
ISBN 9780994138392

Life On Volcanoes: Contemporary Essays first and foremost intimidated me. I am 19, a second-year university student. I work part-time in a café, as a waitress. I do stupid and dangerous things whenever I want to, because I can. I am cloaked in my youth: look, how beautifully the nascent cloth shimmers! The freedom, the naivety: it glitters like gold. And it marks me, as well. A dunce cap. It is far too easy to pick out in a crowd. I have not learned to put on the black coats favoured by the real writers. They are simply too big.

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction, Review

Poem – Nikki-Lee Birdsey

Birthday Song The date is sharp-edged, I pussyfoot around the real issue, as usual, wasting time on the fat maggots in the Jazz Apple’s core in the trash, how did that happen? How the name Dmitry falls out of symmetry,

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