Scoop Review of Books

Archive for May, 2016

‘lovely swans of art’

in a slant light — a poet’s memoir
by Cilla McQueen (Otago University Press, $35)
Reviewed by Ruth Brassington

My pen’s a wand I dip into magic liquid –
memories stream out like bubbles on a breath

SlantLightCoverCilla McQueen: Poet Laureate, Burns Fellow, Honorary Doctor of Letters, Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement – put these and her other awards in a list and we could make a “found poem” for McQueen. But her work is her own and this memoir not only tells her stories but is filled with poesy and, occasionally, shopping lists.

Diary-keeping forms the basis of much of this memoir – as with earlier poems – and we are led gracefully through the waves of her life as she sails through both rough and smooth waters. Some of us can identify with some of her young memories: I, too, am from a time when “Books and radios are all”. Childhood naughtiness was sometimes worth the adults’ disapproval — I share her pleasure at pulling out the neighbour’s seedlings one by one to hear the sound of each plant’s withdrawal; the “prickly tobacco scent in Dad’s tweed sportscoat”. And:

In the large lead shoe X-ray machine
at the back of the shoe shop, our skeletal
feet appeared at the press of a button.

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From Here and There

Being Chinese: A New Zealander’s Story
by Helene Wong (Bridget Williams Books, $39.99)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

HeleneWong-001This is the fascinating story of Helene Wong, born in 1949 in Taihape to Chinese parents: her mother, born soon after her parents migrated here, and her father, born in China but sent to relatives in Taihape at seven to get an education in English.

As a child, Wong generally moved with ease between Chinese and European contexts while aware of differences. There were many large, glittering Chinese social gatherings but she learned to be wary around most Europeans. She vividly describes growing up in a household where the children were expected to work in the shop in Hutt Valley from the age of seven and were taught to keep their heads down when taunts such as “slit eyes” were hurled at them. Somewhat surprisingly to me, the family spoke English at home. At university Wong became immersed in theatre and film though she found being Chinese sometimes restricted the parts she was offered. While still in her twenties she was appointed to Muldoon’s think tank but the media focused on the fact that she was its first woman, rather than on her ethnicity.

The book is a sobering reminder of the range and long duration of the “plethora of legislation” discriminating against New Zealanders of Chinese origin. While the poll tax of ten pounds per migrant, raised to 100 pounds by Richard Seddon is well known, it was news to me that as recently as the 1960s, if they left the country, Chinese New Zealand citizens had to produce a re-entry permit to return (and to enter Australia, a letter of permission from the Australian High Commission). Wong alludes to phases in discrimination. She felt it was at its lowest in the 1970s but gradually worsened again from the late 1980s with increasing Chinese immigration.

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Tauranga Books Festival

Media Release
Books Festival | Queen’s Birthday | Tauranga

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 08.44.01Escape to Tauranga for Queen’s Birthday weekend and an ideas and books-focused festival that includes performance, discussion, story-telling, workshops and an Italian-theme morning tea.

Speakers include award-winning scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles; New Zealand’s leading authority on Shakespeare, Professor Mark Houlahan; food writer and restaurateur Peter Gordon; award-winning author-illustrator Donovan Bixley; award-winning journalists Steve Braunias, Rod Oram and Aimie Cronin; novelists Greg McGee and Nicky Pellegrino; and historian, anthropologist and former New Zealander of the Year Dame Anne Salmond.

“We’ve tried to offer a programme that is a form of escapism,” says festival director Claire Mabey. “Speakers can take their audiences to other times and places, into different realms or consider a subject in depth.

“We’re excited about our ‘big ideas’ panel on June 4 that will discuss some of the grassroots problems afflicting us as New Zealanders – we’re really hoping the audience will jump into the conversation.”
Tackling the issues are law professor and former Cabinet minister Margaret Wilson, Awanui Black from the Tauranga Moana Iwi Leaders Forum, business commentator Rod Oram and actor, writer and producer Charlie McDermott.

Escape! also includes a free Human Library event where a ‘living book’ can be checked out for a one-on-one conversation, workshops by Donovan Bixley (for 7 to 11 year olds) and Steve Braunias (travel writing) and performances by Michael Hurst (No Holds Bard) and the Panhandlers.

Antarctic Anthology

Dispatches from Continent Seven: an anthology of Antarctic science
compiled by Rebecca Priestly (Awa Press, $55)
Reviewed by Simon Nathan

Antarctica Priestley--001Rebecca Priestley’s latest anthology, ‘Dispatches from Continent Seven’, presents a fascinating collection of writing from some 50 Antarctic scientists, explorers and visitors, ranging from Captain James Cook up to the present day. Initially this solid volume seemed rather daunting, but once underway I was hooked and read it right through over a weekend.

For me, one of the unexpected pleasures of this book was to bring back memories of my own Antarctic experiences, exactly fifty years ago, as a young geologist for a New Zealand exploring party in north Victoria land. The Antarctic community was a primitive and male-dominated world then, with much less emphasis on safety and environmental protection than there is today. Different sections of the book were evocative of long-forgotten experiences for me – like dealing with an ever dripping nose in a freezing wind, and my revulsion at the smell of pemmican-dominated meals.

The anthology includes over forty pieces about Antarctic exploration and scientific investigation, arranged chronologically. The strength of this book is the skilful selection of writers and topics, illustrating the wide variety of research undertaken in Antarctica, and some of the difficulties of living and working in this cold and hostile environment. Although written in English, non-British scientists are well represented, emphasising the truly international nature of Antarctic science. The writing is clear and non-technical, with brief introductory notes to each article by Rebecca Priestley.

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