Scoop Review of Books

Archive for October, 2009

The Rose Bible and other Banned Books

Rose Bible 2
Rose Bible by Hanahiva Rose


Okay, describing the above photo as banned might be pushing it a bit. My daughter, Hanahiva, is in year nine at Wellington High School and was asked by her art teacher to create a “controversial” piece of art. The Rose Bible, above, is the result. Hanahiva was happy with it and asked whether a photo of the work could be included in her portfolio for her end of year parent teacher meeting. The request was denied by her form teacher on the grounds that some people might find the Rose Bible offensive.

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The Angelic Face of War?

NZSAS – the First 50 years by Ron Crosby
Penguin Viking, 2009, $65.
Khaki Angels – Kiwi Stretcher-bearers in the First and Second World Wars by Brendan O’Carroll
Ngaio Press, Wellington, 2009


My grandfather’s war began shortly after he won the Wellington Cup at Trentham in 1940, and ended in the North African Desert, captured by Rommel as a part of the NZDF Expeditionary Force there, after which time he was captive in Germany as a POW. Two of my maternal great-uncles died in the mud of Northern France during the Great War, as well.

Both these recently published histories made me reflect on the experiences of these family members and the impact they made upon my life.

I found the stretcher-bearers’ histories – many based on interviews with surviving members – more sympathetic, although the illustrations are the kind that were never shown in the press at the time. The medical corps took many who didn’t want to see active service or fire a shot at war, including conscientious objectors and those with minor physical failings – but as a consequence of tending wounded and dying, and dealing with battlefield corpses, they were more often right at the front lines.

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Improvisations and Ruins

Pelican Dreaming: Poems 1959-2008 by Mark Young
Meritage Press, San Francisco and St Helena, 2008
A Pelt A Shrub A Soil Sample by Ross Brighton
Neoismist Press, Christchurch, 2009


Mark Young is an enigmatic figure in the history of New Zealand literature. Although his earliest poems were published fifty years ago, the shape and extent of his achievement is only now becoming clear. When he was still in his teens, and still living with his parents in Hokitika, on the remote West Coast of the South Island, Young began to write poems that owed little to the literature that was being produced in New Zealand’s metropolitan centres. Largely unaware of the work of post-war Kiwi poets like Allen Curnow and James K Baxter, the teenage Young took much of his inspiration from translations of European and Latin American poets – Lorca seems to have been a particular favourite – and reproductions of modernist paintings. He wrapped the exotic, often surreal images these influences gave him in language that was, for its time, exceptionally colloquial and direct.

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Partial History of a River

River of Blood: Tales of the Waiatoto by John Breen
Longacre Press, 192 pp. $40. Reviewed by SIMON NATHAN

The area south of Haast, on the West Coast of the South Island, remains one of the most isolated parts of New Zealand. Fearsome mountains, dense forest, hazardous flood-prone rivers prone, and high rainfall that can last for weeks combine to make this an unwelcoming place. But within such difficult country, the Waiatoto valley stands out as a place that most people avoid. Over 40 kilometres long, it is choked by moraines and landslides, with steep gorges and little flat land. It starts at Terminal Lake, draining glaciers on the northern side of Mount Aspiring. There are no precious resources such as gold or pounamu, and it is a route to nowhere. Those familiar with the literature of the mountains may have heard of the Waiatoto diaries, written by Charlie Douglas when he explored the apparently never-ending valley from January to May 1891 (and forming a chapter in John Pascoe’s book, Mr Explorer Douglas). The evocative names of tributaries, ranging from Seething Stream to Glistening Torrent, were all given by Douglas.

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Home Sweet Home

Home, by Marilynne Robinson
Published by Virago. Paperback edition $30. Reviewed by JANE BLAIKIE

Home is the hugely successful third novel by US Midwest writer Marilynne Robinson – its unlikely subject, the exploration of tensions in the family of a dying protestant minister.

Like its predecessors, Home has drawn numerous accolades and a prestigious prize – the 2009 Orange Prize. Robinson’s 2004 Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the 1980 Housekeeping won a PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel – and appeared on lists by Time and the Guardian of their 100 best novels.

The books seem such unlikely winners because how can minute examinations of the inner lives of flawed and ordinary people, set in small towns in the Midwest in the 1950s, hold the interest of someone reading today?
Partly, they do because of the writing – meditative, superbly graceful and a balm to fractured sensibilities. Which begs the question, does anyone have sensibilities these days? – and it seems they do.

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