A young Frenchman steals a cutting from the willow planted on St Helena by Napoleon. He then travels to New Zealand and plants his cutting in Akaroa, amidst the battle for sovereignty between the French, English and the local Maori.
A young Englishwoman seeks independence and safety away from the social strictures of England. She too, travels to New Zealand. While this might seem the preamble to a standard romance, it is far more.
This is a novel which shows meticulous research, enabling an accurate retelling of the events which took place in Akaroa in the 1840s. The setting, the characters and the events are engagingly portrayed. You really get a sense of the complexity of the issues with agendas involving land and law. The Maori perspective is clearly stated, as is the spirituality of the native New Zealanders. Bishop Pompellier is accurately shown as a complex man with a deep understanding of the need for diplomacy and concession.
The story of the willow is widely known and yet details are few. The author has interviewed the descendants of the French sailor, Francoise Le Lievre, and used historical records to flesh out this gripping tale. My family have a long association with the area, and I know many of the places mentioned. It has given me another layer of understanding of the establishment of the Akaroa settlement.
This book is more than a romance novel. It is a piece of solid research about a fascinating period in colonial New Zealand. I read it in Akaroa and had to ignore the beauty of my surroundings to finish reading the book.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
By Joan Norlev Taylor
Published by RSVP Publishing Company