Book Review: louder, by Kerrin P. Sharpe

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_louder.jpgThe modern world is a catastrophic uproar of voices, all speaking with the hope that someone is listening. Even the act of listening can feel like a painful way to navigate the world. There is so much to hear, to try and understand, and the breadth of variety in human life is incomprehensible. The act of saying anything at all can feel helpless amongst the noise. But in this collection of poetry, Kerrin P. Sharpe seems to say, go louder, still.

The title poem of louder starts off with an imagined scene:

elephants paint their faces
to restore themselves

adding tusks where poachers
took their ivory

The idea of imagined elephants taking back what has been taken from them is a bittersweet image. Sharpe continues:

even as guns are raised
and calves stumble
into scopes even as

trunks and heads are mutilated
their painting continues
louder than bullets

The imagined elephants are like peaceful protestors, claiming the small semblance of autonomy that they can through the art of self-creation. And although it is an inspiring image, it is a helpless image too. Painting in 2D can only bring back so much, even if it is through self-expression. The original is still lost, something has been lost, something has been taken by force. And the bullets are still ongoing.

The elephants, like the elephant on the cover, are the beginning march and voice of this collection. Sharpe portrays another powerful voice in her piece they are found in the sea. In this poem, Sharpe explores the viewpoint of a refugee at sea. She explores how strange it is to be amongst the ocean for so long and to be travelling so far away.

my world is the sea
my eyes the sky

All that is seen is sky, vision is turned into sky, eyes become sky. Sharpe continues to explore this fantastical world of sea and sky, with humans stuck in between. She explains how:

my brothers are birds
they wear beaks

But the most moving image comes at the end of the poem. The world of sea and sky may be fantastical and alluring, but there is still one greater wish for home and the comfort of land.

bury me
in the pelt of trees

The final section of Sharpe’s collection, where will the fish sleep?, was also incredibly moving. In this section, Sharpe provides answers to this title question. Maybe the fish will sleep still in the sea after a tsunami, after some great disaster. The zoo will crumble with the fish too. After all,

men climbed the great domes and towers to bring back to Earth spires bells crosses
to melt into money to build a zoo
when the flood came priests told us the zoo was never an ark

I did find the collection overwhelming, but I expected it to, as these issues can be just as overwhelming in real life. The amount of empathy required to understand every voice is a true endeavour. By cataloguing voices and views into concrete words that bring images together, Sharpe is clearing the uproar a little. Being able to identify all these issues, with great evocative images, is a way to work towards them.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

louder
by Kerrin P. Sharpe
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561964

Book review: The Little Kiwi and the treaty, by Nikki Slade Robinson

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_little_kiwi_and_the_treatyThis is another gem of a book in the Little Kiwi series by Nikki Slade Robinson.  Little Kiwi’s Koro tells the story of their ancestors coming from different lands.  Koro’s ancestors were the best food finders in the land and the ancestors of Kuia were known as the best nest builders.

They settled on the same land and a fight broke out before the chiefs stepped forward to find a resolution to the conflict. The author talks through the tense negotiations, staying true to the high emotions we all feel when we need to compromise! Te reo Māori is woven throughout the text – and many words are quietly translated as you read along (perfect for introducing new vocabulary).

The text is beautifully accompanied by Nikki’s illustrations. We are transported back in time by the clever use of black and white pictures when Koro is remembering the past. I still love all the emotion Nikki can portray with Little Kiwi – and the little details which distinguish each character (especially the pounamu being worn by the chiefs).

The familiar characters of Little Kiwi and her family introduces ideas about family history and identity to young children. Through Koro’s story we also come to understand what a treaty is. It is a gentle reminder for all children about friendship, conflict resolution and learning from each other.

It is a picture book that can be a wonderful teaching tool to talk about co-operation or simply enjoyed for the wonderful story-telling within.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The Little Kiwi and the Treaty
by Nikki Slade Robinson
Published by David Ling Publishing
ISBN 9781927305485

LitCrawl Starling Residencies & Bad Diaries Salon, Saturday, 10 November 2018

Tara Black spun her magic with words and illustrations on Saturday, 10 November at LitCrawl, checking out Starling: Meet The Residents, then going on to the Bad Diaries Salon.

Starling Residents 2

The featured authors at The Starling event at LitCrawl were: Rebecca Hawkes, Isabelle McNeur, Eleanor Merton, Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, essa may ranapiri, and Ruby Solly.

Bad Diaries Salon

Tara has covered the Bad Diaries Salon without details, as requested by the rules of the event. I like the way she has given the background of invisible notes. I also like the escaping sharks.

All notes and illustrations were done by Tara Black, and all rights to use the images are reserved. Please check out Tara’s website if you’d like to communicate with her.

LitCrawl 2018 website.

LitCrawl Extended: Saturday 10 November, KidsCrawl & More

Tara Black spun her magic with words and illustrations on Saturday, 10 November at LitCrawl Extended. Here are the sessions she covered, with a small note from Sarah about the KidsCrawl, which she also attended!

kidscrawl

Notes from Sarah: KidsCrawl featured Bill Manhire, David Larsen, Giselle Clarkson, Michael Petherington, Susan Paris, Kate De Goldi, Gavin Mouldey, Kate Camp and Iona McNaughton. I attended with my 8-year-old and his friend Zach, and it was a lot of madcap fun. The elements of a story were presented in an exciting way, with cool words made of Scrabble tiles, a very awesome character set up by Kate Camp and her helper, and Giselle’s drawing of another key character. I was a bit starstruck when we reached Bill Manhire, but none of the kids knew who he was. We ended up with Gavin Mouldey who helped us write a story with a temple, some glistening brows & a carton with a rare herb in it. It was hilarious, and inventive, and creative. Please do it again, LitCrawl!

Zoya Patel

More information on Zoya Patel can be found here, and you can purchase her books from VicBooks, the sponsoring bookshop for the ‘Crawl. Kiran Dass is a bookseller and reviewer, and co-hosts the podcast Papercuts.

Writing outsiders

Writing Outsiders featured Anna Smaill, Fiona Kidman, Rob Doyle, and Amy Head. 

Anxiety Understood

Riki Gooch, Danyl McLauchlan, Kirsten McDougall and Anthony Byrt are all published in Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety, released last month through VUP, and edited by Naomi Arnold, who chaired this session. The book is available from all good bookshops.

All notes and illustrations were done by Tara Black, and all rights to use the images are reserved. Please check out Tara’s website if you’d like to communicate with her.

LitCrawl 2018 website.

Book Review: The Seventh Cross, by Anna Seghers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_seventh_crossFirst published in the US in 1942, this novel is the first unabridged English translation of the original, written by German born Jewish woman Anna Seghers. Of four copies Seghers made, only one made it to publication in the US, and even then it was posted from France, the others destroyed or disappeared. In 1944, a film starring Spencer Tracy based on this book was one of the few movies of the era to depict a European concentration camp.

As we continue to be deluged with both fiction and non-fiction, movies, TV series about the war, the Holocaust, the horrific and terrible cost, pain and loss of everything during WW2, this novel remains as relevant and important as it was 70 plus years ago.

George Heisler is a prisoner in a concentration camp near a town in Germany. Like the author, George is a communist, hence his imprisonment. Along with six others, one day he escapes. This is the story of that escape, how the others are caught, how George evades capture, how he learns who to trust and who not to trust, and how living on your wits is almost fatal work. The seven crosses are a creation of the ruthless and sadistic camp commander. As each prisoner is caught he is dragged back to the camp and tied to the cross erected for the purpose. Day after day the seventh cross remains empty.

Over the course of a very desperate week George returns to the town he came from – Mainz, where he has both good and bad luck in getting help for his continuing evasion from the Gestapo and SS. For the risk remains that he may be betrayed by any one of the people he meets, or that his contacts are in turn betrayed, or make an error that puts them and all their families at risk. It is a perilous world. But as we know, us humans can be capable of great risk taking for another person, and great acts of kindness. That George makes any progress at all is a miracle, but the biggest miracle is what he discovers about himself.

This novel is exquisitely written in its detail of daily life for the average German over this time. There is much putting the head in the sand amongst the citizens, the constant worry that ears are listening and possibly misinterpreting conversations, asides, who one is seen with. The SA, SS, Gestapo and Hitler Youth are everywhere, there is endless fear that one may put a foot wrong. Right up till the very last page, George’s plight could all go wrong.

This is neither a hard read nor an easy read. It is very detailed in the minutiae of daily life and there are a lot of characters, most of whom are peripheral to the actual plot. A character list at the beginning doesn’t do enough to introduce us to all the characters. However, this is a minor issue, as the story of George is really what carries the whole thing along. It would be great to see a remake of the 1944 movie.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Seventh Cross
by Anna Seghers
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780349010670

 

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill 

Tara Black attended the first event in LitCrawl Extended 2018 last night.

‘I”m not interested in the politics of exoneration, I’m interested in when I was a dick.’ Kaveh Akbar.

Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill 1

Notes reproduced with permission of Tara Black, copyright Tara Black

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill
Thursday, 8 November 2018, Meow Bar
LitCrawl Extended runs until Sunday, 11 November

 

Book Review: Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook), by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_cooks_cook.jpgChristchurch based author and illustrator Gavin Bishop is one of New Zealand’s top writers for children right now. He’s also won a ton of awards for his books, has been honoured with a NZ Order of Merit for Children’s literature and most recently, took out the top prize at the Children’s Book awards (The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award) for his project Aotearoa: A New Zealand Story.

Over the years he’s illustrated Mahy’s books along with those of Joy Cowley and many other Kiwi authors. If you browse through his work you’ll notice his penchant for bringing history, particularly Colonial, to life. Aotearoa was not only an opportunity to bring our own past to life but to make it shine with elegant, personal , sparkling artwork that almost borders on a cartoon style. That, in turn, really appeals to children and lets them feel at ease with the stories he’s telling.

Carrying on the template he created for Aotearoa and also for an earlier successful book The House That Jack Built (the Kiwi retelling), Bishop places the reader as close to the action as possible. He knows that kids will relate to history if they can wear the clothes, taste the flavours and smell the aromas of history.  And so he’s chosen to write about Captain James Cook, not in the usual way but from the point of view of his cook, the one-handed John Thompson.

Thompson is not a man of airs and graces. He’s completely the opposite. Though he may not mind his Q’s he certainly knows his Pease Porridge – a sludgy soup made of split peas, favoured on alternate days to make the provisions of fresh food go further. This is just one fact we learn along the way. Bishop loves to throw in nerdy facts such as how many pigs, bottles of vinegar or sacks of flour are taken on board the Endeavour during its famous journey through Pacific waters in 1768. He relishes in providing these fantastic little details, information drawn from extensive research. Naturally, he also adds a bit of colourful sailor-talk and few sordid recipes like what to do with an albatross and how to serve sheared shark fins, Goose Pie (with a seabird substitute) or make Yorkshire pudding during a heavy storm.

Cook was determined to keep his crew and passengers fit and healthy so Thomson has his work cut out. His stories alone are worth the price of admission but this book is really more of a vehicle to tell the overall narrative around Cook’s famous voyage. Actually, the book tells multiple stories, of social class, hierarchy and race; stories of explorers and the people of the land (we are there during the first encounters with Maori, for example); the story of one of the world’s most famous explorers told through a fresh new lens – just in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s journey.

This is a short but surprisingly heavily -packed book. There may only be about 40-odd pages but everyone deserves a re-read, as there are many little jokes, facts or secrets hiding in the illustrations. Children from 8 to 80 will love exploring this book and maybe even trying out a recipe or two – at their peril.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook)
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572045