Book Review: Landfall 237, edited by Emma Neale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landfall_237.jpgEstablished in 1947, Landfall continues to play an important role in supporting and showcasing writing and art within New Zealand. This autumn edition is no exception. Like unwrapping presents on Christmas Day, opening Landfall 237 reveals a wealth of artistic delight. The announcement of the winners of the 2019 Charles Brasch Young Essay Writing Competition gives this edition extra joy. The Judges’ remarks on the overall standards and in particular about the three winners, give insight into the future of writing through our talented youth. Jack McConnell’s The Taniwha, Moderation of Our Human Pursuits is included.

While I enjoyed new works from some of my favourite, established writers like Cilla McQueen’s Poem for My Tokotoko, and Peter Bland’s America, I enjoyed new ideas, rhythms and clever language constructions from some new writers.

This edition celebrates the centennial of Ruth Dallas, one of the poets most published in Landfall from 1947-66. John Geraets in Ruth Dallas’ poem Turning cleverly combines her writing with an historical and literary timeline. I liked the way this opened up her work afresh. Her poetry is all but neglected these days so it was a pleasure to see such a beautiful tribute.

The featured artists in Landfall 237 are Sharon Singer, Ngahuia Harrison and Peter Trevelyan. Again, their portfolios show a fresh approach in painting and photography.

orthodoxy
Peter Trevelyan’s work orthodoxy (as above) featured on the last page. To me it summed up the precision and beauty of the printed word. Therefore, from the first page with promising new writers, to the final visual statement of orthodoxy this Landfall is a present worth unwrapping.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Landfall 237: Autumn 2019
Edited by Emma Neale
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531731

 

Book Review: The Unreliable People, by Rosetta Allan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_unreliable_peopleIn 1974 in Kazakhstan, then part of the USSR, a little girl is abducted from her bed. Several days later, the girl arrives back, the abductor having suddenly changed her mind. In 1994, in St Petersburg, Antonina navigates her art studies, a new city in newly broken-up Russia, and a search for her identity.

Antonina was the girl who was abducted by the mysterious Katerina. She is of the Koryo-saram people; a group of Koreans who had immigrated to Russia in the 19th century, settling in the far east of Siberia. They have a long and complicated history that can’t be done justice in a book review; The Unreliable People does deal in some depth with the forced deportation of the entire Koryo-saram population from Siberia to Central Asia in the 1930s. Antonina knows a little about her past and the history of her people, and much of the narrative of the story is her slow uncovering of her own stories. Antonina’s character is the most developed in the story; her mother, two best friends and Katerina are all more sketch-like.

Allan’s descriptions of scenes and landscapes are evocative, and you can see the shabby streets of St Petersburg and the windswept Kazakh steppes easily in your mind’s eye. The narrative moves between time periods and locations, and towards the end also shifts in focus between main characters, which was a little jarring.  The most compelling part of the story for me was Katerina’s experiences during the deportation from Siberia to Kazakhstan, which were horrific and tragic in equal measure – a piece of history I hadn’t been aware of, and certainly nothing that enhances Stalin’s reputation. Other aspects of recent history are touched on such as the breakup of the USSR and nuclear testing.

I enjoyed The Unreliable People, although it took me a while to get the hang of 1994 St Petersburg and its art world. With themes of love, loss, identity and redemption, it has a lot going on, and will appeal to readers who like their books to have a bit of depth.

by Rachel Moore

The Unreliable People
by Rosetta Allan
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143773566

Book Review: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_te_tiriti_o_waitangi.jpgToby Morris is a cartoonist and illustrator who will be familiar to many New Zealanders as the creator of The Side Eye on The Spinoff Website. He’s well known for his commentary on social issues, and has also written books including Don’t Puke On Your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father and The Day the Costumes Stuck.

The Treaty of Waitangi\Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a flip book – one way the text is in English, turn it upside down and you have a Te Reo Māori version. The English text was originally published in two articles in the School Journal and has been developed into a graphic book by Morris.

The text is straight-forward, as you’d expect for something that was written for young people. It is factual and non-emotive, and lays out the timeline up to the Treaty being signed in 1840, and then what happened afterwards. It’s the same narrative that you’ll find in museums and libraries across the country. It’s Morris’s illustrations that bring the text to life. Starting with the cover, which depicts a wide variety of people from different eras, you know that what you’re about to read is about people, not about legal arguments. This makes the book accessible to anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge or attitude towards Te Tiriti.

This book should be in every home in the country.  It should be in every school and public library and given to every new migrant who arrives to live in New Zealand as part of a welcome package. As Morris’s narrator says at the end of the English version: ‘What happened [after the Treaty was signed] wasn’t always the nicest story, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  If we’re honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today.  We all want a country that’s fair for everyone.’

It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Treaty of Waitangi|Te Tiriti o Waitangi
by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby
Published by Lift Education
ISBN 9780473470654

City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_barcelona_city_Trails.jpgGet ready for a walking tour like no other – all from the comfort of your sofa!  Google is a great way to travel virtually around a city but nothing beats local knowledge. This seriously streetwise guide is packed with themed trails, from food and festivals to music, art and sport, that reveal amazing facts and intriguing tales you won’t find on the tourist routes.

In City Trails: Barcelona, join Lonely Planet explorers Marco and Amelia as they hunt for more secrets, stories and surprises in another of the world’s great cities. You’ll discover human pyramids, dancing eggs, a witch school, and lots more!

This a book designed to inspire young intrepid travelers to explore exotic locations – in this case the ancient and modern city of Barcelona. It’s the kind of book you can browse or deep dive. With quirky, fun illustrations, an imaginary narrator takes the reader on a series of trails through the city.

Themed trails include ‘Legends From Long Ago’ (featuring locations of just a few of the city’s many festivals for saints and historic figures), ‘Animal Land’ (the various zoos and museums of the Barcelona); ‘Delicioso!’ (a quick and slightly unsatisfying survey of street food and tapas); ‘Gaudi Town’ (a compulsory introduction of the famous architect’s iconic buildings including La Sagrada Familia); ‘Musical Marvels’ (music festivals) and my favourite ‘Spooky Stuff’ (which includes the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres – a museum devoted to local funerary customs, featuring a display of ornate horse-drawn hearses and The Alchemist’s House, and the Executioner’s House).

With bright colours and a scrapbook design, there’s plenty to see. Every page is overloaded with visual information and plenty of snappy facts and ‘teaser’ lines to whet the knowledge of appetite kids and adults alike.

Also available in the series are: City Trails – London, Paris, New York City, Rome, Tokyo, Sydney, Washington DC and Singapore.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

City Trails: Barcelona – Secrets, Stories and Other Cool Stuff
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781787014848

Book Review: The Doll Factory, by Elizabeth Macneal

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_doll_factoryIris and her twin sister Rose Whittle work for Mrs Salter’s Dolls Emporium. They make the costumes for china dolls. Often the dolls are ordered by clients to celebrate the death of an infant or some significant event in their lives. Iris was born with a twisted shoulder as a result of her shoulder being stuck in the birth canal when she was born and her sister Rose was disfigured as a result of  smallpox. The girls paint the features on the dolls, but Iris dreams of becoming a painter. A fantasy that can never be achieved through lack of money for lessons, paints and canvases.

Iris catches the eye of a pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost who wants her to be his full-time model. Iris, after some persuasion, agrees, but only on the condition Louis gives her art lessons. Rose and their parents think she is nothing more than a whore and they cut off any further contact. Louis also finds accommodation for Iris which also is a matter of contention with her family, further fuelling the fire of her being a “kept woman”.

Iris also has another admirer, the rather odd and creepy character Silas Reed. Silas catches vermin then with the art of taxidermy presents them on stands, dressing them in clothes. People have a morbid fascination with them, with many displayed in drawing rooms. Silas is also a butt of jokes as he is an odd- looking character often found in public houses muttering into his tankard. Silas, over time, becomes more and more obsessed with Iris, imagining her returning his infatuation.

The author has put together some fascinating characters together in this engrossing book, and it is a rather intriguing and at times spin- chilling read. I had to put it down at times and catch my breath before continuing. A great novel.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Doll Factory
by Elizabeth Macneal
Published by Picador
9781529002416

Book Review: A Place of Stone and Darkness, by Chris Mousdale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_place_of_stone_and_darknessLong ago, meteors crashed into Earth and caused a climatic disaster, with great swathes of land scoured by fire and flood. But somehow, deep underground, a few pockets of Striggs managed to survive…

In Chris Mousdale’s first full-length novel, A Place of Stone and Darkness is a dystopian story which follows two young Striggs: adventurous Ellee and her inventor brother Sidfred. Striggs are bird-like creatures with plumes of downy feathers, but they became flightless when they were forced to seek a new home. On every brow, each Strigg has a diamond-bright lapyriss headlight called a ‘spangle’ which help to guide the Strigg through their labyrinth maze of tunnels. The Striggs live by the harmonious mantra: ‘be one, be all, be everything’. Community is everything in their world.

The Strigg leaders insist upon only one rule: They must never be seen by a Toppa.

The novel opens with Ellee Meddo preparing for her Spangletime, a formal ceremony that ushers a young Strigg into adulthood. But Ellee would much rather go exploring than receive her spangle. On a journey into the unexplored regions, she discovers a young Toppa boy trapped in a well. Enlisting eccentric Sidfred’s help to hide the boy, the pair try to avoid ‘Blue’s’ discovery at all costs. Blue is the first human to have seen a Strigg in centuries.

When Blue’s existence is uncovered by the Strigg leaders, it is decided that he should be returned Uptop in order to protect the community.

While the first half of the novel progresses slowly, the pace picks up with the adventure to the Uptop. The discovery of what lies Uptop is just as much a shock to the reader as it is to Ellee, Sidfred and Strigg leader Kass. Set far in the future, Toppas are almost extinct and the world is vastly different to the one we know today. Mousdale’s artistic eye shows in his descriptions of landscapes: ‘There were broken columns and wide ribbons of concrete, pancaked flat where they had fallen. Once roads had soared up and over, in elaborate suspended superstructures. Now it was all ruins … It was a terrible vision’.

When the mission to return Blue goes terribly wrong, Ellee, Sidfred and Kass find themselves in mortal danger. Their entire community is at risk unless they can pull off a dangerous move that could have disastrous consequences.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is beautifully produced. An award-winning illustrator, Mousdale has crafted several stunning illustrations to accompany the hardbacked novel. The illustrated maps and diagrams of the Striggs’ underground land add an extra layer of realism to the world. Every character has a portrait, and readers will enjoy spotting their favourite characters in the coloured plates dispersed throughout the 400-page book. A helpful glossary of Strigg terms show how much work has gone into building the impressive land of the Striggs.

A Place of Stone and Darkness is an engaging story, has brilliant characters, and shares messages about the environment, human kindness and trusting your friends. With similarities to The Hobbit, this novel is perfect for young readers (10+) who enjoy fantasy and steampunk adventures. The surprise ending takes the tale in an unexpected and exciting direction, and while the formal vocabulary of the Striggs does take some time to get used to, the world-building is incredible. I can guarantee that once you are wrapped up in Ellee and Sidfred’s adventure, you won’t be able to put this book down.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

A Place of Stone and Darkness
By Chris Mousdale
Published by Penguin Random House New Zealand
ISBN 9780143773122

 

Book Review: Lay Studies, by Steven Toussaint

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_lay_studiesIf you judge a book by its cover, then Steven Toussaint’s Lay Studies, due for publication by Victoria University Press this July, is elegant, sophisticated and artistic, with more than a hint of je ne sais quoi. In fact, I actually don’t know what the cover design represents, but the curves of the oriental-like calligraphy and calm background beige clear my mind before I have even opened the first page. The simplistic and tasteful colour scheme with a splash of red indicates that this tidy little book holds deliberate and considered poems.

Lay Studies is a collection of very cerebral poetry. There are references to Pound, Odysseus, St. Francis, with a distinctly biblical feel in places. It is lyrical, and deserves to be enjoyed for the soft and measured flow of the language. If you are searching for the poems’ meanings, then it is not a light read. There is a Notes section at the back. But who can deny the beauty of the lines:

immaculate
the transept rose
in damask steel
cannot restore
with faithfulness
the hawthorn’s scent
to Amor’s nose

Toussaint’s phrasing has a luxurious fullness. There are ‘tea / and biscuits in the vestibule’ and ‘imaginary saturations / of foliage on the threshold’. In amidst the intellectualism, nature is a definite presence:

Wherever apple boughs
deliver, where thunder
earth with crimson bombs
we are.

As are people:

Her attention is an accident
of resistance, shattering
her reflection to get

clean, hammering
the water so hard  she might be

forging an object
amid the speculation, fresh

masterpiece.

Meanwhile, beautiful descriptions underscore the irony of man’s relationship with the world:

Fish too credulous
answer with a kiss
the jighead’s dancer,
and the long rod dips
with their wounding.

Maybe the most powerful lines in the book for me were within the poem ‘Agnus Dei’, meaning ‘Lamb of God’, conjuring a winter’s herd of sheep. Perhaps echoing Nietzsche, the poem states: ‘I believe in a God who can learn /to work new spindles’. He ends ‘I hope you feel safe when you die’.

Toussaint has already published one collection of poetry and one chapbook. He was born in Chicago, and his publisher states that he has adopted New Zealand as his second home. Toussaint does write himself into the landscape. The first third of the book has a poem titled ‘Mount Eden’, even if in terms of physical features, the poem gives us little to hold onto. Auckland property also makes an appearance.

It seems a funny thing to comment on when reviewing a book of poems, but like the cover, the space on the page is well proportioned and, generally there seems to be a lot of it. Not only in the poems, but in the gaps between lines. As an important consequence, none of these poems feel jammed or rushed; interestingly, in Indian music the time between the beats is called a lay. Lay Studies also has connotations of medieval song and poetics, and religion. All are indicative of the layers of meaning to be unravelled.

A commitment to explore these poems will bring an appreciation of their depth.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

Lay Studies
by Steven Toussaint
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562404