Andrew Paul Wood
Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library, edited by Chris Jones, Bronwyn Matthews and Dr Jennifer Clement (University of Canterbury, 2012), 256 pp., $30; Chur Chur: Stories from the Christchurch Earthquake, edited by Gina Moss (Project Freerange, 2011), 44 pp., $16.99; Shaken Down 6.3, by Jeffery Paparoa Holman (Canterbury University Press, 2012), 56 pp., $20.
Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library, edited by History Lecturer Dr Chris Jones, Liason Librarian Bronwyn Matthews and English Lecturer Dr Jennifer Clement, is a wonderful-looking artefact, one of Canterbury University Press’s better art books, serving to reveal some extraordinary highlights of the over-two-million books in their holdings. It’s ironic, then, that the library has gone on a mad drive to convert to eBooks (not a fan, me — I like paper), and also put in a wine bar that I doubt most students could afford to patronise anyway. If similar biblioclastic tendencies had been enacted elsewhere and elsewhen, we might not have these lovely taonga lovingly catalogued in Treasures. Really I’m just grateful that it survived the earthquakes.
Ngā Mōteatea: He Kupu Arataki (An Introduction), by Jane McRae (Māori translation by Hēni Jacob) (Auckland University Press, 2011), 158 pp., $34.99.
Kia mau koe ki ngā kupu o ou tupuna
Hold fast to the words of your ancestors
‘Ngā Mōteatea … is unique in the corpus of New Zealand literature, and, as a classical work in translation, it merits international readers’ (McRae and Jacob, 2011)
This is an excellent and apposite introduction to the light-years-ahead-of-all-other compilations, that massive four volume Ngā Mōteatea which was initiated by Sir Āpirana Ngata (Ngāti Porou) in the mid to late 1920s, and ably augmented over time by Sir Pei Te Hurinui Jones (Ngāti Maniapoto), Tamati Reedy (Ngāti Porou) and Hirini Moko Mead (Ngāti Awa). It never oversteps its avowed gambit as delineated by Jane McRae: ‘Ngā Mōteatea makes a very handsome collection, but it can seem rather formidable …. This book fulfills [Ngata’s] aim of reproducing a sample of songs which can be understood more easily, and it also aims to draw readers to the collection as a whole’. I concur that this Introduction succeeds in so doing. It is unpretentious, uncontroversial, stimulating. Ka nui te pai tēnei pukapuka.
Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History, edited by Leonard Bell and Dianna Morrow, (Godwit, 2012), 439 pp., $55.00.
Leonard Bell and Dianna Morrow’s book Jewish Lives in New Zealand: A History,opens up many connections to the life stories of the local Jewish community, while leaving room for more. It is a selective work, made up of essays focusing on the contribution made to the arts, business and professional spheres, rather than trying for a complete survey of the many ways that Jewish people meshed with New Zealand society. It is a history of accomplishment, education, success and hard work, often accompanied by social activism that strove towards better conditions for all New Zealand citizens, not just their immediate community.
The Hungry Heart: Journeys with William Colenso, by Peter Wells (Vintage, 2011), 467 pp. $49.99; Give Your Thoughts Life: William Colenso’s Letters to the Editor, compiled by Ian St George, (Otago University Press, 2011) 497 pp. $65.
A question lingers throughout a reading of Peter Wells’s The Hungry Heart — what exactly is this book? There are no clues in the way of preface or blurb and readers must make up their own minds. But a reviewer has the advantage of a publicity sheet in which Wells says the book allowed him to re-engage with his ‘former passion’ of colonial history, and ‘I hope I also bring the vividness of a novelist’s eye and ear to an historical narrative.’ The ‘Journeys’ of the sub-title do not relate to William Colenso’s North Island explorations, which are said to have been over-emphasised elsewhere, but rather the emotional journeys of a ‘difficult, passionate man.’ Wells says, ‘The larger picture I want to present is Colenso as a passionate if flawed outsider, a towering figure in New Zealand’s intellectual heritage.’ His epigraph on the title page is taken from a New South Wales government travel poster: ‘Sometimes it’s the winding roads, the missed turns or the unplanned surprises that make a simple journey something special.’ What other kind of surprises are there?
It becomes clear that the journeys are Wells’s own, in search of his own place and identity and sexual heritage. Wells appears to find an ancestor in Colenso as the ‘outsider, the questioner, the maverick’, and perhaps as ‘an extremely difficult, prickly creature: people of individual genius often are’, although ‘genius’ seems a step too far. Wells writes, ‘Wasn’t I, in effect claiming Colenso by writing a book about him?’ Only if you want to, only if you wish to be less than objective about your subject.
Helen Watson White
Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas, by Anne Salmond (Penguin/Viking, 2011), 528 pp., $65.
Anne Salmond’s Bligh is not just about the legendary British naval commander of the Bounty, who in 1789 lost his ship to mutineers. It is about the fabled ‘South Seas’ through which they were sailing, and about other European explorers who preceded them there; the nature of their vessels and of the people they met, whether hospitable or (much less often) hostile; the cultures and internal politics of a number of Pacific Islands, especially Tahiti; the cultures and internal politics of the British Isles from which they came, and of the British Navy; and the revolutionary climate in Europe at the time. Above all, we meet a great many individuals in these different settings, including Bligh’s Tahitian friends, his wife and family waiting at home, his sponsors and critics, the sailors who were loyal to him as well as the mutineers.