I suspect the challenge of writing a book about a museum is nearly as hard as designing the museum itself. There is a tricky pathway to tread between inspiration and boredom, and always way more material than will fit into the confines available (in this case 225 pages). The authors of 100 Amazing Tales From Aotearoa have solved this by choosing 100 short stories featuring terrifically interesting exhibits. And Simon Horton and Riria Hotere bring a fresh approach to the book that allows their quirkiness and sheer fascination with the oddities of our cultural and natural history to emerge.
Museums are odd concoctions of competing interests at their very best and Te Papa, our national museum, has the challenge of capturing who we are in a single building. Capturing and preserving stories and artefacts of history, art, culture, and natural history (and more) is a noble pastime. But for the museum staff, this is serious and passionate work. It includes serious research and often years (lifetime careers) of commitment. And I think both the (television) series and this book celebrate this work well.
This is not simply a fact-filled book – although there are plenty of those and the supporting photographs are fabulous – it presents the serious information in a fun and enjoyable way. It’s a book that will appeal to adults and children because the mix of information and entertainment is spot on.
I particularly liked the way the important information (e.g. cultural history, modern art, sport, natural curiosities, etc) is presented largely from the perspective of human interaction. The stories are as much about the weavers as they are the weaving; about the soldiers as the war; and about the researchers and their work. And that’s why this book is so accessible.
There is a wonderful story about the restoration of a samurai suit and the individual layers of cloth, leather and hair that took over two years to complete. The researcher (or should I say detective) used modern X-rays to detect small pieces of metal embedded in the leather suit in the mask. Vital pieces that would, otherwise, remain unseen by the uninformed viewer.
Viewers of TV7 will remember the short bites (Tales From Te Papa) that used to appear from time to time on New Zealand’s free public TV network. This new book covers some of the same areas, but is different enough that the two included DVDs enhance the stories not detract. I suspect our family will dip into this book for many years to come.
Reviewed by Gillian Torckler
100 Amazing Tales from Aotearoa
by Simon Morton and Riria Hotere
Published by Te Papa Press