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Life After Death

Life After Death: The Shocking True Story of an Innocent Man on Death Row by Damien Echols (Text Publishing, $40)
Reviewed by Kelly Bold

It’s hard not to bristle with impotent ire at the injustices meted out to Damien Echols. As the so-called ringleader of the “West Memphis Three”, he withered in an Arkansas Death Row cell for 18 years for the supposedly satanic killings of three eight-year-old boys: a crime he did not commit, of which there was not a scrap of evidence linking him or his two co-accused to, and for which he was blatantly set up by corrupt police.

What happened next almost reads like a soap-opera storyline, but it was real life – Damien’s real life. A determined woman named Lorri Davis became his pen pal, then tireless freedom crusader, then wife. She gave up her New York life to move near to him for visits of just three hours a week – all the while working relentlessly to clear his name, pulling in global superstars like our own Sir Peter Jackson, Johnny Deep and Eddie Vedder to her campaign, and in August 2011, securing his release.
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When the Floods Came – Pleng’s Song

Pleng’s Song by Patrick Maher

Reviewed by Sophie Robinson, age 10 (with a bit of a hand from her dad Jim)

Pleng’s Song is set in Thailand. Pleng is the 11-year-old daughter of an alcoholic mum and a father who is often away. Her adventures start when she finds out that floods threaten where she lives and her parents leave her at home alone.

(Dad adds: In 2011, schoolteacher Patrick Maher was trapped in Thai floods. Afterwards, back to teaching, he realized his students had their own flood adventures to tell. They began writing a story, which led to this easy-to-read children’s novel. The book was initially printed with Maher’s students in mind, but it was picked up in media and is now being enjoyed far beyond Thailand.) Read more »

Atomic Madness

Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age
by Rebecca Priestley. Auckland University Press, 2012, 284 pp. $45

Reviewed by Simon Nathan
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New Zealanders are proud of their nuclear-free stance and our green, “100% pure” image. So it comes as a surprise for many people to realise that only a generation ago there was widespread enthusiasm for New Zealand to be part of the nuclear club. In 1966 I was delighted to get my first job as a young geologist with the DSIR, looking for uranium on the West Coast. Within my working life, attitudes have changed so much that prospecting and mining uranium are now banned in this country.

The publisher’s blurb rather misleadingly labels this book an alternative history of nuclear New Zealand. Not so – to date this is the only comprehensive account of New Zealand’s nuclear story, documenting the way public attitudes have changed over the years. It is a work of considerable scholarship, based on a PhD study, but is easily accessible. As a popular columnist, Rebecca Priestley has the gift of making complex issues understandable, and the story she tells is fascinating.

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A Bible of New Zealand Sound-Makers

Erewhon Calling – Experimental Sound in New Zealand
Edited by Bruce Russell. In association with Richard Francis and the (CMR and Audio Foundation, 2012)

Reviewed by Sarah Jane Parton
In Erewhon Calling – Experimental Sound in New Zealand, editor Bruce Russell repeatedly states that the aim for this book was not to create a comprehensive survey of sound art and experimental music in New Zealand. I can’t help but wonder if he is being intentionally self-deprecating, as a reflection the national cultural tendency that he so accurately identifies: “we regard boasting about (or even referring to) one’s own achievements as the height of ill-breeding.” Is he scared of offending those he has neglected to mention? Is he fending off anticipated criticism? I can’t quite figure it out because, as far as I can tell, this is the most comprehensive survey anyone could hope to achieve. This is the Bible of sound art and experimental music in New Zealand. Read more »

The Medium Is The Message

English Language As Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures ed. Vaughan Rapatahana and Pauline Bunce (Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters, 2012)
Reviewed by Mark P. Williams

The English language is a monster bent on devouring weaker language cultures, this is the thesis of the editors of English Language As Hydra.

Rapatahana and Bunce’s book offers a trenchant critique through wide-ranging analyses, drawing on a mixture of years of experience and detailed case study. The writers collected here are a mixture of language teachers, writers and theorists from diverse cultural backgrounds including notable figures such as Malaysian National Laureate Muhammad Haji Salleh, and world-renowned Kenyan playwright, novelist and academic Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Read more »

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