When I was asked to review this book I had in mind a coffee table book, low on writing and long on stock photographs. The book, however, is a delight of stories, history, culture and mood-evoking photographs. I keep sitting down to read a few pages and finding myself idly noting that half an hour had passed.
The book moves around New Zealand, beginning with Cape Reinga and the story of the Maori Underworld. The story continues down the North Island’s East Coast, winding around to Wellington and Taranaki. The (West) Coast and the rest of the South Island follows. Each location has been researched thoroughly, and the length of time the authors spent on this project is apparent.
What I loved most was the distinct ‘Aotearoa’ voice of the book. It feels as though an accomplished orator was standing in the room with me, telling a story about our country. When you slow down to let the words wash over you then you know you are in the presence of a great book! Having grown up in Taranaki I was keen to see what was written about the West Coast of the North Island. In a great collaboration between words and images the story of Digger’s lament was very moving. The strength of this book is the emphasis on the stories people have linking them to a particular patch of coastline. For some, the coast provides a livelihood. Others are fascinated by the resources of the coast – fishing or plant life. Kiwis who see the coast as being for serious play and recreation are also covered.
Both Bruce Ansley (writer) and Jane Ussher (photographer) show an ability to form relationships with the people they interviewed. The stories are richly worded and detailed – the images strongly capturing the mood of the subjects and location.
What a special book. I can think of no better purchase for the difficult-to-buy-for person this Christmas.
Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming
Coast: A New Zealand Journey
by Bruce Ansley, photographs by Jane Ussher
Random House NZ