Book Review: Glorious South Island Steam Power, by Robert John

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_glorious_south_island_steampowerThe word “glorious” in the title of this photographic essay on steam trains in the Sth Island of New Zealand is not a misplaced use of hyperbole. Growing up as a child of the railways in the 50s and 60s in Timaru and North Canterbury, I loved everything about the huge black monsters as they puffed their way up and down the country.

Robert John has captured the feel of the era with his photographs which document the passing of steam power in the South Island. Quoting his words as he watched two locomotives power past his vantage point in Oamaru – ‘Onwards and upwards these two examples of Hillside shop’s finest blasted their way around the right inside curve, past this railfan’s camera waiting trackside. Puzzled faces peered out of their carriage windows, no doubt oblivious as to why on earth anyone would want to photograph their steam express. How could they have known that in 1965, steam was living on borrowed time?’

Sadly time ran out so quickly for the steam locomotives, but this book goes some way to assuage the pangs of yearning for past glories.

The photographs stir the memories, their black and white starkness somehow more impressive than a colour shot. My memories of the locomotives that hissed into the station across from our house, are always of the dense blackness of the engine and the varied whiteness of the steam that poured from every orifice. Mr John captures this effect well.

Along with the photographs there are accounts of various classes of locomotives, where they served and when they went out of service. For me, these accounts were less interesting than the photographs, but for many who were as fascinated by all things to do with steam power as the author of this book, this information will be a treasure trove of facts, eagerly pored over.

I’m so glad that people like Robert John exist. His love of his subject and his willingness to share the information he has painstakingly accumulated over time adds not only to the enjoyment of others of like mind, but leaves a well documented legacy of a piece of our history.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Glorious South Island Steam Power
by Robert John
Published by Robert John
ISBN 9780473359454

Book Review: Doctors in Denial – The forgotten women in the “unfortunate experiment”, by Ronald W. Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_doctors_in_denialThere have been two phrases in New Zealand, which have become synonymous with tragic events. While “an orchestrated litany of lies”, reminds us of the Erebus inquiry, an ”unfortunate experiment,” takes us straight to the sad events which unfolded over 20 years at National Women’s Hospital, in Auckland.

Ron Jones is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist who was part of the original team to bring the spotlight on the work of Professor Herbert Green. Here he tells his own story in meticulous detail. The book follows a chronological timeline but also inserts the stories of some of those involved and gives a human face to the unsuspecting women in this experiment. He also captures the behaviour and social conventions of the times, which had a part in these events. While today we are appalled at the thought of medical experiments on uninformed patients, it was still the era when the Doctor knows Best and who are we to question.

The account of events, people, places and the advances being made in medicine at the time give a robust substance to the book. Here are the details, which supported the experiment, the people who questioned but were ignored, the women who accepted the treatment offered, or not offered in some cases. Against a worldwide agreement among many experts that CIS was a precursor of cancer, Green decided to make a study of his group without their consent. This meant women were untreated, or over-treated in invasive ways without a choice or knowledge of their involvement.

While the book is a little heavy for a general read, it is essential reading for anyone concerned with the development of ethics committees in New Zealand. It is important for medical students to see the fallout from poor decisions and for administrators to understand how things can go so wrong if there are no careful checks on the behaviour of our experts. This book clearly reminds us of how wrong we can be and the pain such mistakes can cause. I am a much better informed teacher of ethics and a woman who will always ask questions, even of the experts.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Doctors in Denial: The forgotten women in the “unfortunate experiment”
by Ronald W. Jones
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522438

Book Review: Truth and Beauty: Verse Biography in Canada, Australia and New Zealand edited by Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_truth_and_beauty.jpgThere has been a surge in recent culture, and across disciplines, of what we could term as biographical impulse. Objects, diseases and cities, through to created historical figures in art works, have all been examined through this lens, which involves interpreting a range of material to construct a narrative. This surge has also led to increasing awareness of the tension in biographical enterprise: there is a constant process of resurrection and modification.

Both impulse and tension are reflected, and even cultivated, in the emergence of a new genre, which is subject to critical discussion in Truth and Beauty: Verse Biography in Canada, Australia and New Zealand edited by Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma. ‘Verse biography’ melds biography and poetry to produce works where ‘the competing and complementary claims of truth and beauty’ find home in historical figures, whose lives are rendered in poetry.

Biography often favours chronology as the driving narrative force or main thread of work, which is then fleshed out with anecdotes and facts, reliable accounts, and investigations of identity. But verse presents another way of looking at things – ‘a freedom from the concerns of conventional biography’. It emphasises moments, highlights omissions, plays with chronology and is free from the burden of establishing authority or authenticity. We see this tendency in Anne Carson’s lyrical treatment of Sappho’s fragments, where she plays with square brackets to indicate omission: ‘Brackets are an aesthetic gesture toward the papyrological event rather than an accurate record of it.’

There is an inevitable jousting between the autobiographical and biographical in any act of interpretation or reconstruction, but verse biography stands apart in its approach – it is deliberate and self-aware, conscious of its subjectivity. Not only does verse biography provide another framing for the story of a historical person – for example a look at Billy the Kid in Michael Ondjaate’s work focuses on Billy’s later years, his intimates, what drives him to violence – his ‘trials and tribulations in New Mexico’. But there is also a framing of the relationship between subject and writer, which propels us to consider whose voice is speaking through these works? In Margaret Atwood’s rendering of Susanna Moodie we are unsure whether it is writer or subject: ‘The mouth produces words/I said I created/ myself, and these/frames, comma, calendars/ that enclose me’.

Through various poets’ treatments of figures such as Emile Bronte, Captain Cook and Akhenaten, the cycle of destruction and renewal – of resurrection and modification – ‘reminds us that historical figures are but characters marked beneath our current selves.’ With contributions from academics and poets (sometimes both), the essays survey the concerns of voice, palimpsests, masks, mythologising, characters as vehicles for contemporary messages – and bring this ‘construction of life’ to the reader’s attention – revealing the awareness of these verse biographers carry in their works.

Although this academic text is by no means light reading, Truth and Beauty holds a certain unruly appeal in that it captures a moment in time in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where the emerging cultural practice of verse biography sits on the cusp of becoming something in particular. The collection of ten essays, which form this satisfying tome from Victoria University Press, critically analyses important verse biographers and captures this lively diversity, where ‘individual works are so variously influenced, so eclectic in approach to the idea of verse biography, and so various in form’. The range of possibilities before the institution of a canon or genre settles, and the freedom this entails, is exciting to consider. Indeed ‘verse biography expands the possibilities for both biography and lyric’.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Truth and Beauty: Verse Biography in Canada, Australia and New Zealand
edited by Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Angelina Sbroma
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560974

 

Book Review: The Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata, by Scott Hamilton

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_stolen_island.jpgThe Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata, relates the untold story of a tiny Polynesian island near Tonga, whose history seems to have been forgotten, largely due to the booming slave trade in the 1800s that resulted in a tragic incident for the island’s inhabitants.

In 1863, an Australian-born whaler, who decided that the slave trade was more profitable then whaling, lured 144 ‘Atan men, woman and children onto his boat under false pretenses, only to sell them as slaves. No one knows exactly what happened to these people after they had been sold, but it is certain that they never made it back to their island home, ‘Ata. The Stolen Island relates how the author, Scott Hamilton, came across these stories of the now-deserted island and his journey in finding evidence to support the legends handed down through generations of story-telling among families and tribes.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the book but it surprised me. We don’t have to go back too far in history to see slavery being practised all over the world, and yet somehow realising the extent of it in New Zealand and the Pacific which the The Stolen Island pointed out, shocked me. The story of the natives of ‘Ata being captured would have been saddening enough, but that, along with the other accounts of kidnappings and exploitation that Scott Hamilton outlines in his findings, made it all the more appalling. Many were tricked into signing contracts that gave them little or no remuneration for years of servitude and labour. Others were forced into hard labour, some even left to die on abandoned ships, and almost all had very little hope to ever making it back home.

While what happened on ‘Ata in 1863 is the main focus of the book there are many more interesting points relating to ‘Ata or slavery that the author notes and discusses which makes The Stolen Island that much more intriguing and well-rounded. The way he progressively relates his experiences made me feel like I was right there too, seeking out whatever information was linked to this mysterious island, and feeling a mix of eagerness, desperation, at times disappointment but also satisfaction.

Scott Hamilton did a commendable job of tackling this topic; clearly it was something that intrigued him and piecing the puzzle together satisfied much of his own curiosity about the island, but to put his journey and findings into a book means that people are able to know a bit more about the history of slavery in New Zealand and the Pacific, but also the history of a little uninhabited island between Tonga and New Zealand, ‘Ata.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

The Stolen Island – Searching for ‘Ata
by Scott Hamilton
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780947518110

Book Review: The Post-Snowden Era – Mass Surveillance and Privacy in New Zealand, by Kathleen M. Kuehn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_post-snowden_era.jpgBWB texts are fantastic short books written by specialists in the field. They provide good background to topical events, and it is particularly pleasurable to read books about New Zealand or written by New Zealand authors. As short books (and accordingly priced) they are accessible and very consumable. The Post-Snowden Era provides a brilliant hit of ethics, privacy and surveillance all in one tidy book.

Kathleen Kuehn is a lecturer in media studies with an interest in surveillance. She notes that we are told that the price of security is surveillance, but it isn’t quite the full story. Surveillance in the traditional sense has changed a lot, and with public/ private partnerships strongly in force, we have become complicit in our monitoring. With much of our ability to be monitored in the hands of commercial interests, traditional methods of controlling unwanted behaviour have been replaced by the free market.

Prior to reading this book I always thought that electronic surveillance sought to read emails or listen in to phone calls. It does that, but it is also the patterns created by our activities online – the combination of our shopping habits, social media activities and online searches that produce metadata. The metadata – the times we are online, who we call frequently or how we purchase items can be more revealing than the information in our emails. With most adults active digital users, each swipe of the Fly Buys Card, distances logged on Fit Bits and the location of our tweets enable analysts a comprehensive picture of our lives.

I really appreciated the opportunity to understand modern surveillance and Kathleen Kuehn has produced a very well written overview. I was quite startled by the extent of surveillance and feel much better informed on the issues raised as a result. The book is also well referenced and this provides an opportunity to dig deeper on the subject. A fascinating read.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Post-Snowden Era – Mass Surveillance and Privacy in New Zealand
by Kathleen M. Kuehn
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780908321070

Book Review: The Kiwi Pair, by Hamish Bond & Eric Murray, with Scotty Stevenson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_kiwi_pairWe really only know what we hear through the media about the gold-medal winning Kiwi Pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray: the genetically gifted, unparalleled winners in their field, Olympic champions.

In The Kiwi Pair, you’ll discover a fascinating insight into the strained relations, the coaching styles, the epic levels of training, and the scant financial situations of New Zealand’s rowers over the last decade and more. It really shows what rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray had to power through to become NZ’s cherished Kiwi Pair.

The lads start their stories as alternating chapters, first using rowing as off-season fitness for rugby, then both discovering a coaches who would build and then cement their interest in rowing as their primary sport. Both made their way up the junior ranks of NZ Rowing’s age group teams, Eric a few years before the younger Hamish, both fighting hard for their spots in the Rowing 8’s and 4’s and sometimes the pairs, with other rowers. Then one fateful day, Hamish suggested to Eric that they become a pair with the 2012 Olympics as their goal. NZ Rowing & Olympics campaign coach Dick Tonks was in agreement, and there began the record-breaking partnership we know today.

Hamish Bond struck me as the ultimate competitor, unrelenting in his goals to push himself to see just how fast he could row and how far he could get. Eric Murray is a more relaxed personality, but provides the strong engine to glide the thin fibreglass boat through the water – and match the levels that Hamish Bond would set.

The relationship between the two could never be described as close, and they say themselves that their deep respect for the other and their abilities is what firstly comes to mind when asked to describe their relationship. Both acknowledge they are different personalities but they are so complementary on the water; it shines through their descriptions of absolute flow and connection as they win each race.

It’s interesting to read of the sour tensions between the Kiwi Pair and their initial Olympics rowing coach Dick Tonks, before they moved onto better relations and different training styles with their 2016 Olympics campaign coach Noel Donaldson. The book touches on some of New Zealand’s other top rowers including Mahé Drysdale, Rob Waddell and the Evers-Swindell sisters.

Eric and Hamish also touch on the difficulties in maintaining family life when required to tour overseas to race, and spend many hours training on the water. Hamish Bond also speaks of his growing interest in road cycling during his rowing years, a sport which he is now attacking with vigour in 2017.

The Kiwi Pair is a great read for all sports fans and anyone who has ever trained competitively. Written with the assistance of knowledgeable sports commentator Scotty Stevenson, the book contains insight and bucketfuls of inspiration and is just a good story of a great journey that deserves to be set down on paper.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

The Kiwi Pair
by Hamish Bond & Eric Murray, with Scotty Stevenson
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143574361

Book Review: The Art of Mindful Origami, by Dr Richard Chambers

cv_the_art_of_mindful_origamiAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Dr. Richard Chambers, a clinical psychologist, has produced a book that is as restful and emotionally satisfying as a beautiful piece of music or a well written poem.

The Art of Mindful Origami contains the instructions needed to fold intricate designs along with perforated sheets of patterned paper the reader can use to create the origami project. Also included are pages of designs that can be coloured in to customise one’s own models.

Dr. Chambers has written about the book’s purpose: “Just folding the models is an excellent mindfulness practice in itself. However, for those wanting to take their mindfulness to the next level, I have also included additional exercises that you can do with each of the models. These involve engaging more fully with the world around you and cultivating qualities of mindfulness such as curiosity and generosity.”

This is more than a book. It is a many-layered offering from a person who has put a great deal of thought and care into something he obviously feels deeply about. I found, in my own case, on reading through it in increasing delight, that the anticipation for working with the paper and the designs was every bit as enjoyable as doing the actual work. Friends and family were as equally enamoured of the contents, a fact that means that the book will make a well-received gift.

Reviewed by Lesley Vliestra

The Art of Mindful Origami
by Dr Richard Chambers
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781925335293