Scoop Review of Books

Women Vote!

Book Review
The Women’s Suffrage Petition, Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine 1893
Archives New Zealand/National Library (Bridget Williams Books, $30)
Reviewed by Judith Morrell Nathan

wsp-001This 100 page A4 sized book is one of three published in connection with the establishment of the He Tohu exhibition in the National Library where the 1835 Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1893 Petition for Women’s Suffrage (the third such petition) are now housed.

I learned a lot from the 10 page introduction by Professor Barbara Brookes which set the petition in the context in terms of men’s electoral rights and of women’s rights more broadly, in both Britain and New Zealand. Women were largely ignored in relation to the 1835 Declaration and the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, even though in Māori society there were women of chiefly rank who could have participated.  Brookes outlines the gradual broadening of the suffrage by the abolition of the property requirement and the inclusion of Māori men. Married women gained property rights in New Zealand in 1884. The growing temperance movement underpinned many women’s commitment to seeking the vote. Some two-thirds of all New Zealand women exercised their right to vote in the November 1893 election, only two months after the bill became law, 125 years ago this September.

The introduction is followed by potted biographies of 161 of the 24,000 signatories, drawn from throughout the country, roughly in proportion to the number of women there who signed the petition. In South Dunedin over 50% of women signed.  It is estimated there were up to 6000 signatories in the sheets that have been lost.

Women queuing to vote outside an Auckland polling booth, 1899 (p14)

Women queuing to vote outside an Auckland polling booth, 1899 (p14)

Read more »

Poet of Many Parts

Book Review
The Light and Dark in our Stuff
by Mere Taito (MT Productions)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

mere-taito-poems_coverThis small (30pp) and beautifully presented book is Mere Taito’s inspired/inspiring first collection of poetry. The poems are lively, well crafted, the poet unafraid to call a spade a spade, to present stark differences between black and white.
There is considerable accent on body and bodily functions throughout the 10 poems within (5 x ‘dark’; 5 x ‘light’). Indeed, the very first saturnine poem, Bad Charity, regales the reader with bones, tears, frameless selves, skeleton, fractures – all in nine lines. The next poem, The Lost Art of Kissing a Government, delves further into the corpus both literally, and figuratively, as Taito refers to mouths (x 3), lips, teeth, tonsils, forked tongues, eyes, screams. Here she eviscerates not only governments, but also we who no longer chew up at and spit out legislators and administrators, and merely suck up to them.

So it goes in these dark (p)ages, for the very next schism-making poem Building Code, further references cavity-riddled human molars, skeleton, tibia, hair, cartilage, dislocated human spine, clammy hands – whereby humanity is deconstructed metaphorically and devolved physically – by humans.

Conflict Minerals furthers the depiction of human greed – here over tantalum – and the concomitant desperate sounds of hungry men; while the strongly worded This Charmed Life forces further the division, here between bucolic and bitumen, as angry villagers in Rotuma – the poet’s turangawaewae – confront the situation, whereby

a black tar-seal road

slithers into a village like a hungry boa

Read more »

A History Lesson for Silicon Valley

Book Review
The Square and the Tower: Networks, hierarchies and the struggle for global power by Niall Ferguson (Allen Lane, $40)
Reviewed by Alex Beattie

book-cover-raw2017 was a turning point for how the world saw Facebook. Last year the social media giant was accused of spreading fake news, rigging the U.S. Election and Brexit vote, and gluing people to their screens. It was a tough year for Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It leads you to wonder what his New Year’s resolution was. Be a better global citizen?

Niall Ferguson thinks it should have been a history lesson. In his new book The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies, and the Struggle for Global Power, he argues we live in tumultuous times, largely because of powerful networks like Facebook. And if Zuckerberg and the rest of the Silicon Valley learned a bit of history, the world may be a little more certain and stable.

Connect the dots for history lovers

The Square and the Tower is an ambitious book, which bizarrely reminded me of the puzzle connect the dots. Yes, that’s right – I’ve just compared premier historian Niall Ferguson’s latest book to a juvenile game where the sole purpose is to connect dots to complete a happy picture, like a smiling triceratops, posing superhero, or fluffy bunny. Stay with me on this one.

Credit: Casey Sams

Credit: Casey Sams

The Square and the Tower is connect the dots for history lovers. But here the dots are key historical groups (such as the Rothschild family) or figures (like Winston Churchill) and by connecting them together, Ferguson draws a big picture of how societies have been disrupted in unexpected ways. In his words:

[This book] proposes a new historical narrative, in which major changes – dating back to the Age of Discovery and the Reformation, if not earlier – can be understood, in essence, as disruptive challenges posed to established hierarchies by networks.

Ferguson argues that historians have given nation states and other hierarchical organisations too much credit for shaping the world. While empires like Great Britain and Spain colonised large parts of the world in their image, no ruler ever ordered the Enlightenment, or the French and American Revolutions. Networks caused these periods of turmoil, and Ferguson dedicates most of The Square and the Tower to describing this in detail.

Credit: Stan Pines

Credit: Stan Pines

Read more »

Fantasy Land

Book Review
Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Hachette; paper, $19.99; hardback, $29.99)
Reviewed by Hariata M. Chase

nevermoor_pb_coverI really love fantasy, and Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor is right up there.  The descriptions of the places, characters and clothing make you feel you are there, inside the story.  The main character, Morrigan, is like any other teenager simply wanting to try different experiences.  She was  born on Eventide day, the unluckiest day for any child to be born and, as a result, she’s blamed for all the misfortunes that befall her hometown and its people. Even worse, because she’s cursed, Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

Enter a remarkable man named Jupiter North, who whisks her away to Nevermoor.  There, she has to compete in four difficult trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society, using some kind of  knack or talent that Morrigan doesn’t think she has. Will she find it before it’s too late?  She needs to become part of this secret organisation, to find a way to pass each test or leave the city and confront her deadly fate.  One hundred children, each with an extraordinary talent, are taking part in the contest.

Morrigan has some lovely relationships with other characters, including Jack, Martha, and Fen, the cat character whom I particularly enjoyed:

“Fenestra was silent for a while, and Morrigan thought she’d fallen asleep standing up. Then she felt something warm, wet, and sandpapery lick the entire right side of her face. She sniffled again, and Fen’s big gray head rubbed her shoulder affectionately. ‘Thanks, Fen,’ Morrigan said quietly. She heard Fenestra padding softly to the door. ‘Fen?’ ‘Mmm?’ ‘Your saliva smells like sardines.’ ‘Yeah, well. I’m a cat.’ ‘Now my face smells like sardines.’ ‘I don’t care. I’m a cat.’ ‘Night, Fen.’

One quibble is how long it takes for Morrigan to discover the real reason she’s in Nevermoor — something Jupiter North doesn’t tell her.

Nevermoor would make a great movie, along the lines of Alice in the Looking Glass with its beautiful, loud, colourful characters and costumes.


Daily Dawn

Book Review
Me – You: A Diary
by Dawn French (Penguin Random House $45)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

french_mediary_webcoverI have to confess to a possible bias here. I’m a fan. The Vicar of Dibley is one of my favourite TV shows and this is classic Geraldine Granger. It makes me think that who we saw in the series was the real Dawn French.

This book is the real Dawn French, it invites the reader into her life, to share the private moments. It’s more an interactive autobiography, than a diary with each month preceded by Dawn’s take on the season and anecdotes about her life and family. She talks about her marriages and her children, her parents and her childhood; she tells us how she was shaped into the person she is now, how she views ageing and how she is making peace with herself:

“I started like a lot of us, as a baby. A red-spotted lump of a baby, with scarlet fever, apparently. My two year old brother thought Mum had given birth to a giant screaming strawberry. It was a lengthy, complicated birth, Mum liked to remind me. She also wanted me to know that in those days of poor dental care, little info about calcium and no fluoride in the water, she donated her top teeth to my bro, and her bottom teeth to me.”

There is a smattering of photographs from her family album, and some clever illustrations by Chris Burke, a notable London cartoonist and caricaturist. There is room for the diarist to write in appointments or thoughts, and Dawn has included lists of ‘silliness’ like ‘Would be Valentines’ and ‘some thinking’ like ‘Good Questions to Ask and Answer’, and she provides places for the reader to join her. It’s a fun way to keep a diary.

Dawn is best known in New Zealand for TV shows French and Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley, but her career spans much more: numerous television, movie and theatre roles and, who knew she is also a novelist? Her first three novels, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, Oh Dear Sylvia and According to YES are all Sunday Times bestsellers.

As a northern hemisphere year, the seasons in this diary don’t match up with ours but the reader is likely to dip in and sample Dawn’s writings a morsel at a time so that won’t really matter. It is a delightful read. It’s like getting two for the price of one and as Dawn says, it’s a guilt free zone, you can’t get it wrong. And at the end of the year, you’ll feel as though you have found a new friend.