Rich Man Road
by Ann Glamuzina (Eunola, $30)
Reviewed by Judith Nathan
Being 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.
Both Olga and Pualele were expected by their families to conform to traditional ways in New Zealand. Both had unhappy experiences with men. Olga’s family tried to marry her off to a suitable Dalmatian.
Pualele was brought to New Zealand by her father and brother, partly as a substitute child for her aunt after the death of her young cousin, also called Pualele. To an extent she was forced to live a lie as she was supposed to be grateful for getting the opportunity to live in Auckland when all she wanted to do was to go back to her mother in her village in Samoa. At school the nuns decided her name was too hard to remember so they decreed she would be called Pauline. To Pualele, this was stripping her of her identity.
Having enjoyed getting to know these women through their childhoods, I would have liked more about their adult lives, particularly the period leading up to Olga’s decision to enter the convent when she had been so dismissive of religion; perhaps it was as expiation for her sins. By contrast, Pualale found the church a refuge throughout her lonely New Zealand childhood and in the end she felt she belonged there rather than back in Samoa.
This first novel provides a readable, revealing picture of how vulnerable immigrants are, and of the challenges they face while ignorant of cultural norms in New Zealand and coming to terms with their hosts’ ignorance of their ways. For me it was a fascinating glimpse into how others see us, particularly the Dalmatian perspective, about which I know very little.