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Archive for December, 2013

Breathing new life

Juno & Hannah by Beryl Fletcher (Spinifex Press, $25)
Review by Sienna Latham

imageThe New Zealand bush haunts every page of Beryl Fletcher’s compelling new novella. Set in 1920, Juno & Hannah follows two sisters as they flee the isolated Waikato community of religious fundamentalists who raised them. They soon find themselves in strange — and strangely familiar — territory.

Fourteen-year-old Juno, the younger of the two girls, challenges the rigid structure of life in the Christian settlement simply by existing. She is different: childlike, visceral and visionary in her reactions, echoing the sounds she hears and succumbing to emotion when it comes to animals and children. She embodies fragile, fecund, uncontrollable nature, guarding a secret that she both understands and doesn’t. Stable, capable Hannah acts as her sister’s guardian when others lose patience with her, but even she must remind herself occasionally to be patient; Juno lives by different rules.
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Tactile satisfaction

New Zealand and the First World War: 1914-1919 by Damien Fenton (Penguin, in association with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, $75)
Reviewed by John Ringer

imageAs most men did before going into battle, Second Lieutenant George Black, formerly of Poverty Bay, wrote to his mother from a trench on the Somme on the evening of July 13 1916. “My Company has been picked to make a raid on the German trenches… we are going across before daylight in the morning. Our artillery will prepare the way by smashing up their wire entanglements and bombarding their trenches, so it should be fairly easy for us to get in and come back.”

The raid was a disaster, and George Black did not survive it. His younger brother Dick, also serving on the Western Front, wrote another letter 10 days later, assuring his family that George had died, “as the noble old soul had lived, thinking always of others”. Despite the unimaginable scale of the slaughter, (“there are but few of my old brother officers left”), Dick Black remained convinced of the war’s purpose and eventual outcome. “We will have to go on paying until Germany, the enemy of all that is good, is down, and down for ever.”
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The wolves are coming

45 South: A Journey Across Southern New Zealand Photography by Arno Gasteiger; essays by Laurence Fearnley (Penguin, $65)
Review by Richard Thomson

imageStuck for a present? Picture books have been a fixture of gift-giving pretty much since the invention of the modern Christmas in 19th-century North America. And the scenic pictorial book of colour photographs has been a staple of New Zealand coffee-table book publishing since AH & AW Reed brought the first copies of New Zealand in Colour back from Japan, where they had been printed, late in 1961. That book matched colour images of town, country and wilderness (or as much of the wilderness that could be accessed with a Landrover), taken by Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, with extended captions written by James K Baxter. Over the next 15 or so years, Reeds sold around 150,000 copies.

Publishers today can only dream of that degree of success. But the formula has proved durable. 45 South matches the pictures of New Zealand Geographic photographer Arno Gasteiger with short essays by Dunedin writer Laurence Fearnley. The modern book focuses more narrowly, drawing a line from the Waitaki rivermouth in North Otago, due west through Central Otago and Queenstown to Caswell Sound in Fiordland. The line marks the quartering of the globe, a division well suited to our orderly culture and one that offers up a geography more insular than that of earlier, more celestial latitudes such as the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle. Regular reminders of the 45th parallel act as signposts to the reader’s progress through the book – written on AA signs and on river stones.
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Lights in the Landscape

Lights in the Landscape – New Zealand Lighthouses by Grant Sheehan (Phantom House, $75)
Reviewed by Nikki Slade Robinson

imageFor years I’ve had a series of photos showing a desolate lighthouse perched on a tiny ‘island’ of rock. In the first photo, the lighthouse keeper is standing, framed, in the doorway. Behind the lighthouse looms an enormous wave, poised to engulf the bottom half of the lighthouse. The subsequent photos show the ferocious wave wrapping around the building with the keeper only just making it inside and shutting the door. For a moment in time, the lighthouse would have been submerged. It’s fascinating, terrifying. What on earth would it be like to exist like this, in the most remote, windswept, craggy locations imaginable?

Such wild places are exactly what Grant Sheehan has captured so well in his latest book Lights in the Landscape – New Zealand Lighthouses. Sheehan is a photographer and publisher who has already published a book on New Zealand lighthouse keepers, and this is a great follow-on. This large-format, beautifully produced hardcover takes us on a journey from Cape Reinga lighthouse at the northernmost tip of New Zealand right down to the most southern lighthouse in Foveaux Strait. Until now, I hadn’t realised there were so many different lighthouse designs – many of them are still in use, with an automated light.
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What a to-do

Explore New Zealand: 101 Must-dos for Kiwis edited by Renee Lang (Random House, $45)
Reviewed by Judith Nathan

ExploreThis book is the result of an invitation to the public from the Automobile Association (AA) to vote for their favourite must-dos from a pool of over 1600 experiences, nominated by regional tourism organisations. Around 280,000 votes were received.

The experiences are grouped by region on substantial end papers, and there is an alphabetical as well as a regional index. Without these, it would be difficult to rediscover anything, as there is no explanation of the order of the entries in the body of the book. Heliview Taranaki is followed by the Otago Central Rail Trail; Lake Matheson by Waiheke Island. As these are neither geographical nor alphabetical, I assume the numbered entries are ordered by the number of votes, but did individuals vote several times? Did keen operators encourage clients to vote? The Hanmer Springs pools are very enjoyable but are they really Kiwis’ number-one must-do?
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