Scoop Review of Books

Archive for November, 2015

King of the Road

On Me Bike: Cycling around New Zealand 80 years ago by Lloyd Geering (Steele Roberts, $24.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

On-Me-Bike-coverAt 97 years of age, Emeritus Professor Sir Lloyd Geering has produced another book. But this is a shorter, less formal work than his previous books. As its title implies it is reminiscences about bike rides that he undertook in the 1930s and early 1940s in various parts of both the South and North Islands, often getting to his chosen starting point by train (and ferry from Christchurch if was heading to the North Island). It was during one of the early rides that he decided to apply to be a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry. Some early rides were to reach summer holiday jobs, for example in Central Otago and South Westland while later ones were mostly to and from national conferences of the Student Christian Movement; one was following a visit to Government House for an interview for a Rhodes Scholarship. Excellent maps show the extent of the area he covered, from Invercargill to Nelson to Napier to Hamilton.

The book begins with a brief account of how the first ride with a school friend came about at the end of his last year at Otago Boys’ High School. Living in somewhat straitened circumstances in a small Mosgiel farmhouse without electricity or phone, Geering found his first challenge was to afford the cost of a suitable bike.

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Worldly and Unworldly

Being Magdalene by Fleur Beale
(Penguin Random House, $19.99)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

Being-Magadalene_WebWhen I was growing up in a rationalist household, I had a friend in my street whose family belonged to an exclusive and unworldly Christian sect. As soon as she turned 16, my friend was married to an adult man in her church community. Her brother, a pupil of my secondary school teacher father (at that time implying a community standing that must have made our family somehow suitable for friendship), couldn’t do the prescribed homework when it entailed reading a recent newspaper report and paraphrasing it. “Please sir, I’m not allowed to read the paper.” Nor, it turned out, could he listen to the radio. My father made no comment, but set an alternative exercise for the “poor chap.”

That was my only encounter with such a family until I read Fleur Beale’s novels I am not Esther, I am Rebecca, and now Being Magdalene, which tell of a more extreme way that some families have been known to live – in New Zealand, and in many other places. The situations shown in this youth novel are shocking, scary, and very moving as we experience Magdalene’s struggle to be a perfect girl as defined by the cruel and unreasonable leader of “The Children of the Faith”, as she moves reluctantly into young womanhood. Children and adults alike are frightened into submission as they try their best to honour the tenets and impossible demands of their Elders’ beliefs, where they are under the unforgiving thumb of the group’s leader who presents himself as channelling the word of the Lord.

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Waiata Aroha

Chappy by Patricia Grace (Penguin, $38)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Chappy-cover_WebWith this eminently readable novel Patricia Grace returns to the full-length fiction stage after a hiatus of ten years.

I enjoyed reading the book; it kept me interested and impelled to turn over the pages when my body had already informed me it was time to sleep. It propels itself forward rather like a mystery novel, which I guess it essentially is.

For who is Chappy? More appositely, why is Chappy? He aha te maunga, te awa, ngā tipuna, te ingoa tika o tēnei tane? Actually these patai [questions] are never resolved in this novel and the culmination sees Grandmother Oriwia and her mokopuna Daniel preparing to ship off to Japan to quest more information about this rather sketchy character – their Japanese husband/grandfather. Chappy Two, must be on its way, eh.

So I surmise that Grace has rather deliberately unfulfilled her main protagonist, this titular chap, Chappy Star, who has no official name or designated background, let alone concretized specifics as to how he actually gets around from Japan to San Francisco to Aotearoa to Hawaii – on more than one occasion: he remains an undernourished character in more ways than one throughout this text. Nor, for that matter, are the actual magic abilities of others to so travel to these same destinations in so streamlined a fashion, ever really accorded credibility – at least for my curious mind. Strategically so, perhaps, so as to colour him – and his hefty Polynesian whanaunga – in more as the series progresses. (To be continued…)

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Migrant Stories

Rich Man Road
by Ann Glamuzina (Eunola, $30)
Reviewed by Judith Nathan

RichManRoad_001Being of Dalmatian descent, author Ann Glamuzina has been able to tell a vividly-realised story of an elderly nun looking back to her life in Dalmatia in World War Two, her escape to a refugee camp and her struggles to settle into New Zealand. It is a fictional diary grounded in facts, for example the British refugee camp in Egypt. The author grew up with stories of Dalmatia and spent several months there. Through her research with the help of Samoan friends, Glamuzina is also able to create a convincing back story for a young Samoan nun; this is told in the third person, interspersed in the elderly nun’s diary.

The two disparate characters, with their parallel histories of forced uprooting and difficult resettlement, came to inhabit neighbouring rooms in an Auckland convent where Olga decided to write the diary for Pualele to read after her death. It reveals the guilt that Olga has carried throughout her life because of the consequences of an episode in her childhood.

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Not an Equilateral Triangle

Kūpapa: The Bitter Legacy of Māori Alliances with the Crown
by Ron Crosby (Penguin Random House, $65)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Kupapa_coverThis is an excellent book: well-written, comprehensive; pictorially fine too, by which I mean there are ample explanatory maps and old photographs throughout, accentuating the author’s prime points as well as his points about personalities. Indeed, the entire volume reads rather like a large legal casebook in its close, well-argued examination of causes and effects leading to Ron Crosby’s (LLB, Hons) cogent conclusions. Nice tight compartmentalised sub-sections help us to read the multiple pages in snappy bites too. There has been considerable research and care accorded this tome, just as with his Musket Wars: A History of Inter-iwi Conflict, first published back in 1999. A similarity further accentuated by the overall kaupapa of both books as regards Māori-Pākehā relationships then and as subsequently portrayed. Which I will return to soon.

My sole criticism of this book is its sheer size, It literally is a tome, and is too bloody heavy to continually prop up anywhere. An earnest reader requires a lectern to hold it! With its four large sections and over 500 pages, Kūpapa requires an ope of its own to haul it!

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