Scoop Review of Books

Release: ‘From the Ashes’ by Deborah Challinor

From the Ashes, by Deborah Challinor

Media Release: Harper Collins New Zealand/Notable PR, 24 September 2018

challinor_ashes_coverIn 1950s Auckland things are changing – and fast. Women are joining the workforce in numbers, whitegoods are readily available and the age of rock’n’ roll has arrived.

Allie Manaia works the Elizabeth Arden counter at Smith and Caughey’s. It’s been two years since the Dunbar and Jones fire, where some of her friends perished, but she still has nightmares.

Kathleen Lawson – rich, lonely and bored – is one of Allie’s customers. Kathleen takes a shine to Allie, but when Kathleen discovers Allie’s husband is Māori, her attitude changes. Is she trying to make friends or poison the relationship between Sonny and Allie?

Meanwhile, Sonny’s beautiful younger sister, Polly, is embracing the more relaxed moral standards of the era, living a vibrant but wayward life as a waitress-model-goodtime girl while leaving her young daughter to be raised by her mother.

As each woman navigates the shifting social and cultural landscape of the 1950s, she is faced with new possibilities and decisions – with freedom comes joy, but also fear and, occasionally, mistakes.

The book is a sequel of sorts to Deborah’s 2006 novel Fire, which was based on a real department store fire that took place in 1947 and killed 41 people. Over the years Deborah’s often wondered how her fictional characters fared, so From the Ashes allowed her to catch up with them.

Deborah says she’s long been fascinated by the 1950s, so it was an ideal setting for her.

“It was a time of such disparity and social intolerance, but also of change. There’s a mythology surrounding the ‘golden years’ of the 1950s, asserting that unemployment was low and everyone enjoyed an enviable standard of living,” she says.

“The first part’s true, the second isn’t. The 1950s heralded the age of consumerism – refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners – but only if you earnt a decent income, and not everyone did. Though white New Zealanders believed New Zealand had the ‘finest race relations in the world’, Māori encountered marked discrimination in terms of language, pay, accommodation, social opportunity and political influence. Signs outside pubs and barber shops stating ‘No Dogs, No Māoris’ were common. Mixed-race marriages were frowned upon, and often openly criticized.”

The era’s sparkly representation of pretty housewives in high heels baking biscuits in gleaming kitchens belied what a difficult time it was for women. They were expected to stay home and raise their children, there was a dreadful stigma attached to unmarried mothers and pregnant girls often left town to have their babies and put them up for adoption.

“It was this side of 1950s New Zealand I wanted to have a look at – the relationships between different classes of people; social expectations and what happens when people don’t meet them; and how easy it is for cultures to misunderstand one another.”

Told in Deborah Challinor’s trademark style – equal parts heart and humour – From the Ashes follows the fortunes of the women of three families through one decade of incredible change.


Deborah Challinor has a PhD in history and is the author of thirteen bestselling novels, including the Children of War series, the Convict Girls series and the titles in the Smuggler’s Wife series. She has also written one young adult novel and two non-fiction books.

In 2018, Deborah was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and historical research.

She lives in Hamilton with her husband.