Book Review: I Love Tomato Sauce, by Nicky Sievert

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_love_tomato_sauceMost children love tomato sauce, and will enjoy this fun story of how this family enjoys their tomato sauce. The boy in the story likes his sauce on most of the food he eats, even on party food. But there are issues in the family as his parents can’t decide which bottle is the best to use, his dad prefers the upside down bottle, while Mum likes the old squeeze bottle shaped like a tomato. The small pots in the fish and chip shop are preferred by big sister Ariana, but Aunty Kirsty makes her own tomato sauce, as does Nan’s neighbour Cyril.

When the family go on a picnic they have to pack everyone’s preferred tomato sauce, but they are so busy organizing the sauce they forget the food to go with it.

The day is not ruined as Nan has brought a loaf of bread to feed the ducks, and the family enjoy their sauce on the bread.

The simple story will appeal to most children, the script has words highlighted in bold which emphasize key points, and there will be lots of talking points in the colourful illustrations.

Supplying Aunt Kirsty’s recipe is a nice addition, which could lead to a fun activity for a family to do if they have surplus tomatoes growing.

A page at the back discussing some of the sign language used in the illustrations is quite unique and should generate discussion with children and adults reading the book. I liked this inclusion as it would enable children with hearing impairments to be more included in the New Zealand classroom.

Nicky Sievert grew up in Hawkes Bay, studied art in Wellington and lives in Lower Hutt. I Love Tomato Sauce is the first book she has written and illustrated, although in 2018 she illustrated Our Dad, written by David Ling.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

I Love Tomato Sauce
by Nicky Sievert
Published by Duck Creek Press
ISBN 9781927305560

Book Review: Every morning, so far, I’m Alive, by Wendy Parkins

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_every_morning_so_far_im_aliveWhile reading Wendy Parkins’ memoir I was reminded of how universal the need is among humans of knowing who we are and why we are.

The author has recorded with remarkable honesty the breakdown of her spirit under the pressure of the life she was living.  While she began to write of her struggles as a means of coping with what was happening, she discovered more about herself, not only in the distressing present, but also how her life as a child and adolescent had shaped her, and, perhaps, had pre-disposed her to the behaviours that were now causing her so much suffering. Her intellectual capability and strength of spirit were an obvious asset in withstanding the terrible assault on her mind and personality. Even while in the midst of her breakdown, Wendy looked for possible reasons for why she was suffering, going back to memories of her childhood and of her relationships with her parents and others, considering interactions that she had never before given thought to in her busy, fulfilling life as an academic.

I was immensely impressed with the courage it required of the author to continue living through such catastrophic trauma, and not only to continue living but to keep searching for the “why”. The author, herself, may have benefited by writing her story, but we, the reader, benefit also by acknowledging the frailties and resilience we all share as humans.

Memoirs such as this help us to develop empathy and understanding not only for others but for ourselves as well.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Every morning, so far, I’m Alive
by Wendy Parkins
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531618

Book Reviews: A book about, and a collection by Greville Texidor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_all_the_juicy_pasturesI read the biography of and collection by Greville Texidor together, which turned out to be very good idea.

Margot Schwass has written a comprehensive, intelligent, and fascinating biography of Greville Texidor. Some of you might say, “Who?”. It’s a fair question.  Greville Texidor arrived in New Zealand as a refugee, in 1940. Others who fit this description include Lili Krauss, and Theo Schoon.

Greville, a Spanish Civil War veteran who had been interned in Holloway  after returning to England was now married to a German national, Werner Droescher. She came to New Zealand with Werner, and her mother and sister. They were sent to Kaipara, quite another country compared to Spain and England. That was an enormous culture shock.

Very early on, Frank Sargeson met them, and quickly became a mentor to Texidor. They began an intense correspondence, and when she began writing seriously, he read and commented on all her work. She became part of that group of writers who were enormously influenced and supported in their writing careers by Sargeson.

So, who exactly was Greville Texidor, and how does she come to be regarded as a New Zealand writer? I asked around a selection of friends for their opinions on just what are the criteria: variable, it transpires. However a strong opinion was that the writer should produce their work while living in New Zealand, regardless of the subject matter.  That seems good enough!

And certainly this qualifies Greville Texidor. Almost the entirety of her published work was written in New Zealand; she continued to write after leaving NZ, but none of it was completed, and much of it destroyed by her. Some of it appears in the collected stories, which was edited by Kendrick Smithyman more than 20 years after her death.

She was a deeply unhappy woman for the latter part of her life, despite her success as a writer. She never really came to terms with living in New Zealand, and certainly never regarded herself as a Kiwi. For a woman of her background and experiences, NZ in the late 40s and early 50s must have been a dire backwater, saved only by her connections with Sargeson and others.

Margot Schwass has brought this almost-unknown figure of NZ literature to life in her biography. It must have taken her a prodigious amount of time and effort to find more about Texidor, but she has created a fascinating work which keeps sending you to the stories.

So now, to the stories.

cv_in_fifteen_minutes_you_can_say_a_lot.jpgThe collection includes what many have described as her best work, the novella These Dark Glasses. Janet Frame said of this work that she was “impressed and quietly depressed by their assurance and sophistication”.

Texidor wrote really well. These Dark Glasses is set somewhere in the south of France, quite possibly in a small town we know as Cassis. It’s fascinating – this is how it begins:

‘SUNDAY – Calanques: I am used to not being met. Comrade Ruth Brown is not the clinging type……..And Jane never did meet anyone at the station. We always considered it bourgeois…..’

That either repels or draws you in, I think. I decided to be drawn in and see what this writer was about. I think that her stories – and I won’t mention them all – are cleverly drawn from her own experiences, and obviously not entirely works of fiction. But then what is? She writes well about relationships, and catches personalities and attitudes in small exchanges of conversation.

The stories are variously set in New Zealand, France, Spain . One which stood out for me is the story An annual affair.

This is at once familiar, sad, provides some  moments of recognition and many others where you think ‘“thank goodness my father/family/etc were not like that.’ It’s a Boxing Day picnic in a small town somewhere in NZ. Early in the day dad ‘has to meet a chap’ and heads to the pub. The kids in their good clothes end up covered in mud and have to change into the spares their thoughtful, long-suffering mother has brought along. It sounds like any dire picnic in the 50s, on a fairly miserable summerish day. Windy, not warm enough to swim, pub too close and food predictable. But the observations of the narrator turn it into a remarkable story.

And I think that’s the key to Greville Texidor – she observes so clearly what is going on beneath the surface, behind the comments and in the looks! She’s well worth discovering, if you have not found her already. And when you do read her stories, read Margot Schwass’ excellent biography alongside. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

All the juicy pastures: Greville Texidor and New Zealand
by Margot Schwass
VUP
ISBN 9781776562251

In fifteen minutes you can say a lot: selected fiction   
by Greville Texidor
VUP
ISBN 9780864730466

Book Review: The Presence of Love, by Michael Duffett

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_the_presence_of_love.pngMichael Duffett is a USA-based poet born in the UK. He has been a teacher, academic and minister, and is currently a professor in a Californian university. A new selection of his work spanning 40 years, The Presence of Love, is edited by Wellingtonian Mark Pirie. I say with great admiration that Duffett is a good old-fashioned poet who thinks deeply, but who knows how to phrase his thoughts in a way the common reader might clearly understand. These are good, solid poems, as the poem ‘The Corrective Lens’. Here

A man without a magnifying glass
Can certainly bear no blame
For not concentrating the rays of the sun
Nor missing in small print his name

To skip to the end of the poem:

So men without the corrective lens
Of intellect sharp as a knife
Must earn our compassion and not our ire
As we cut the bread of life.

Duffett moves deliberately and meaningfully through the issues he sees from his seat at home, those of global warming, violence and war, refugees, Syria and political strife, as he worries that ‘The pen is no longer mighter than / The sword’. ‘Jesus at the Border’ is reminiscent of Baxter’s ‘The Maori Jesus’. Polar bears and daisies huddle together against approaching visions of darkness.

Duffett views a future and often scary world through the eyes of old-fashioned values. Despite everything, he approaches life with generosity and positivity. He also celebrates the simple and immediate joy of ‘a clean shirt’. And the blue jay, who with great gusto consumes ‘the bulbous fruit’. Duffet reflects on his own life – the house in which he sits, the difference between youth and age, and how, as an older man, his adventures consist of sailing inner seas. These are easy-to-follow poems, written for himself rather than for the market, and they don’t seem to make any bold claims about his own literary greatness. They are enough in themselves.

The titular poem, ‘The Presence of Love’, comes about halfway through the book and calls the reader to remember, above all, love:

All that matters is the presence of love.
I may or may not have been promoted.

[…]

We may have to get rid of one of the cars,
Eat my favourite mushrooms less frequently,
Cut down on the expensive sparkling
Cider I enjoy to accompany food.
I’ll buy books less often but you will be there.
All that matters is the presence of love.

We should all be cutting down on cars whether or not we have money, but the basic message Duffett gets across is a timeless and necessary one that too many of us dismiss. This, then, is a collection of quiet and simple truths and thoughts which anyone can approach.

At the same time, Duffett’s poems show that he is a man of learning. His poems make reference to Newton, Aeschylus, Edward Said, but there is also his little dog and Socks the cat (a great name). He has clearly been touched by New Zealand poetry. Near the back of the book are a cluster of poems that feature, and indeed in a couple of instances are dedicated to, Allen Curnow and Denis Glover. An appendix details his own meeting with Glover in the late 1970s. He himself spots a mixing and melding of cultures in the Indian cup of tea brewed for him by his American son.

The Presence of Love gives a flavour of Duffett as a poet and a person. The poems are crafted but easily accessible. They give a warm, personable and conversational sense of Duffett’s concern for the world and human condition.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

The Presence of Love
by Michael Duffett
HeadworX
ISBN 9780473469153

 

 

Book Review: The Girls in the Kapa Haka, by Angie Belcher, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_girls_in_the_kapa_hakaThis is a delightful picture book in the tradition of The house that Jack built – a story which builds up rhyme by rhyme until it’s complete. There’s enough in the brief text to let the reader understand how much work goes into making a piupiu, and also that it’s probably not easy!

There’s good use of Te Reo, enough for you to learn something and the rhymes are good.

I have one or two issues with the metre and continuity in the text, but overall the story builds up well.

The illustrations really to me are the stand-out – well, that’s what you do want in a picture book, after all. But the clever use of side panels on the left of each double-page spread gives a hint as to the next component of the rhyme, and would certainly keep kids looking.

It’s good also that the girls in the Kapa Haka group are diverse, and although Koro seems far too young I think that’s my eyesight and not any other kind of issue!

All in all it’s a delightful little book which should appeal greatly to preschoolers.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Girls in the Kapa Haka  
By Angie Belcher, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143773870

Book Review: Dead People I Have Known, by Shayne Carter

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dead_people_i_have_knownEveryone has heard of the ‘Dunedin Sound’, and this book by frontman of Straitjacket Fits, Shayne Carter, will bring back memories for those who lived through those years when the music was in its infancy.

Carter says he used to keep a diary, and although he dumped them years ago, that style of recording everything features throughout the book. There are certainly no holds barred regarding his childhood and family life. He grew up in a family that used alcohol as a crutch, and at times during his life, he did too. A lot of fights and disagreements with band members – his own band and those from acts he played alongside or supported – litter the book.

He’s very honest about his battles with alcohol, drugs, depression, and – I think – his own talent. Despite the accolades, he seems uncomfortable with the fame he achieved and always wanted things to be better.

Making it big in New Zealand saw the band head overseas, but for some reason they never quite achieved their potential. Carter resents some of those he feels didn’t deserve to achieve success in the industry, but he’s also very generous to those who have been there for him and helped his musical career along the way.

There are some surprising revelations in the book, like his early love of Cilla Black and Donny Osmond, but when bands like the Sex Pistols hit the scene, he’d found music he could really identify with. The songs he wrote started having more meaning, and the industry started taking notice. Despite all this, Carter writes for himself and his fans, and therefore they actually mean something.

I’m not sure I would have enjoyed seeing him live as he recounts many instances of abusing the audience, but I’d say a lot of that was down to his heavy drinking rather than wanting to have a go.

Hearing he’d started out as a cadet reporter on a Dunedin radio station wasn’t surprising as he spins a good yarn. A man of many contrasts, I reckon he’d spin a good yarn in person too. It’s an engaging read, even for someone like myself who tends more towards the rock and pop end of the spectrum. For those who are fans of New Zealand music and musicians, you won’t find a better present.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Dead People I Have Known
by Shayne Carter
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562213

Book Review: Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy, by Paul Horan and Philip Matthews

Available in bookshops nationwide. The TV series is currently screening on Sunday evening and available on TVNZ OnDemand.

Funny_as_four_coversIn Funny As, the book of a new TVNZ series of the same name, Paul Horan and Philip Matthews navigate the chop of New Zealand’s ambivalence towards its own comedy in a way that’s both sober and enthusiastic. They consider ‘New Zealand comedy’ to mean pretty much anything any New Zealander has done since WWI to make another person smile on purpose. The care they have so evidently taken in appraising how New Zealanders execute jokes and japes of every stripe makes this book immediately as essential as such a book can be.

When it comes to assessing the legends of the game, Horan and Matthews deploy a bluntness which is maybe one of the side effects of covering so much history with so few words. Instead of parroting easy, accepted assessments on our giants, they risk throwing in definitive, evaluative statements. Sometimes, they’re damning. The section covering folk legend Barry Crump acknowledges that he was ultimately revealed to be an ‘abusive, violent husband and absent father’ before ending: ‘New Zealand struggled with the information that its best-selling comic writer, yarn-spinner, heroic loner and popular joker was also a monster.’

Not ‘possibility’, or even ‘allegations’. ‘Information’. And that’s their last word on Crump: ‘monster’.

The authors’ ability to take a stand and remain clear-eyed about their subject is one way in which the book distinguishes itself. Talking about the influence of British TV comedians on quintessential joker Billy T. James they write: ‘This style of humour, often reliant on ethnic stereotypes, was long out of date by the time James debuted it on New Zealand television.’

Yes, true. So true in fact it can’t be meaningfully rebuked, and when placed in the context of this chapter, doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of James or sneer at his audience. In fact, the chapter on James deftly manages something that Matt Elliott’s biography Billy T: The Life and Times and Billy T James could not: it meaningfully surveys the comic’s place ‘Between Two Worlds’, engaging with the racial and social tensions around James’ work with seriousness, while never losing sight of what made James such an appealing and popular comedy star. Ultimately, James’s reputation is not undermined by such examination, but enhanced. He beams widely at us from under the famous yellow towel on one of the book’s four covers.

funny as_topp twinsThe other three covers are given to the Topp Twins, Flight of the Conchords and John Clarke. The politics of the Topps are foregrounded, with the words “punk” and “f*ck” deployed as readily as “yodel” and “rural childhood”. The shortish, vital chapter on ‘two women unafraid to express all that they were in a small society that many might have expected would shut them down’ serves them well. It will hopefully send some readers to the superb 2009 documentary Untouchable Girls.

The irony of Flight of the Conchords’ image being used to sell a book from a TVNZ series will not be lost on their fans. Theirs is already a story for the history books it seems. An unlikely one, to be sure, but it now apparently belongs to the whole bloody lot of us. And seeing posters I used to drink cheap wine under in dank Wellington flats lovingly reproduced in a coffee table book is just the price of growing up, I suppose. (Their friend and collaborator Taika Waititi, about as perfect a synthesis of New Zealand comedy as you could wish for, gets his own chapter.)

The recently departed John Clarke acts a kind of spiritual guide for the project, with Horan and Matthews stating early on that they have followed his ‘firm dictum that there is no such thing as a distinct New Zealand sense of humour’. Such observance to the teachings of Chairman Fred could have resulted in bloodlessness in the hands of some acolytes, but Clarke’s intelligence, passion and sense of fairness are qualities the writers evidently admire and seek to emulate.

A black and white still from Clarke’s appearance with Hudson and Halls is generously given two pages, and the caption informs that this picture is ‘[a]ll that remains’ of the event. It’s one of the many times when a sense of loss is invoked in the reader (OK, this reader) without any forceful tugging on the nostalgia strings.

If it’s nostalgia you’re after, though, just flick through the thing for the photographs and the reproductions of posters and flyers. Aside from Clarke, Hudson & Halls and the Conchords, there are also full-page reproductions of gorgeous Red Mole and Front Lawn posters, Rosemary McLeod cartoons from The Listener, theatre posters for Jean Betts’ Revenge of the Amazons and Roger Hall’s Glide Time, John Key on Letterman, Arthur Baysting as Neville Purvis and a promotional card for Debbie Dorday’s Auckland cabaret club, Burgundy’s. Yep. Because this book sees comedy as a broad church. Both Mika and David Low are here, and deserve to be. Children’s television, and youth television like Havoc and IceTV, are also given their due. When you think about it, they really are part of the story. Thank god we’re a small enough country that we can see how connected it all is. By canvassing everything that could come under the banner of ‘comedy’, Horan and Matthews have, perhaps unwittingly, gone against Clarke and made a case for a ‘distinct New Zealand sense of humour’. But it’s not entirely what we may have been conditioned to think it is. Instead of “self-deprecating” and “laconic”, how about we describe it as “inclusive”, “adaptable”, “intelligent” and “multi-lingual” a little more often?

Because so much has been included in this book, I’ll just say that if you think it’ll be in here it probably is: McPhail and Gadsby, the Hori books, Seven Days, commercial radio, Funny Business, ‘Melody Rules’, BLERTA, Jono and Ben, Allen Curnow, Hen’s Teeth, Back of the Y, the showbands, Lyn of Tawa (who gave us – get this for precise, economic writing – ‘a complete, imaginary folklore of New Zealand life at its most ordinary’), and Samoan comedy in New Zealand, which is given a chapter of its own. The book is so packed it begs to be called ‘definitive’, but anyone interested in comedy is going to be peeved something they like has been left out. Given the scope of the book, I would have liked to seen Jonathan and Dane, Binge Culture, the Fan Brigade, Mrs. Peacock and Joseph Harper get some space, but when Frickin’ Dangerous Bro, Jo Randerson, Snort, Tom Sainsbury and half the Aucklanders I follow on Twitter are all present and correct… well I’m hardly going to lodge a formal complaint.

We have reached a point where the story of our comedy has become one worth reading and telling. Horan and Matthews have written right up to the minute, and though Rose Matafeo’s success at Edinburgh in 2018 is a fitting peak to rest the flag in for now, it’s clear we’re going to continue finding new ways of knocking this comedy bastard off. If the TV series lives up to its tie-in product, it’ll be an absolute cracker. And if it doesn’t… well it’s always nice to see that ‘Where’d I get my bag?’ joke on the telly.

Reviewed by Jonny Potts

Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy
by Paul Horan and Philip Matthews
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869409005

Book Review: Landfall 237, edited by Emma Neale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landfall_237.jpgEstablished in 1947, Landfall continues to play an important role in supporting and showcasing writing and art within New Zealand. This autumn edition is no exception. Like unwrapping presents on Christmas Day, opening Landfall 237 reveals a wealth of artistic delight. The announcement of the winners of the 2019 Charles Brasch Young Essay Writing Competition gives this edition extra joy. The Judges’ remarks on the overall standards and in particular about the three winners, give insight into the future of writing through our talented youth. Jack McConnell’s The Taniwha, Moderation of Our Human Pursuits is included.

While I enjoyed new works from some of my favourite, established writers like Cilla McQueen’s Poem for My Tokotoko, and Peter Bland’s America, I enjoyed new ideas, rhythms and clever language constructions from some new writers.

This edition celebrates the centennial of Ruth Dallas, one of the poets most published in Landfall from 1947-66. John Geraets in Ruth Dallas’ poem Turning cleverly combines her writing with an historical and literary timeline. I liked the way this opened up her work afresh. Her poetry is all but neglected these days so it was a pleasure to see such a beautiful tribute.

The featured artists in Landfall 237 are Sharon Singer, Ngahuia Harrison and Peter Trevelyan. Again, their portfolios show a fresh approach in painting and photography.

orthodoxy
Peter Trevelyan’s work orthodoxy (as above) featured on the last page. To me it summed up the precision and beauty of the printed word. Therefore, from the first page with promising new writers, to the final visual statement of orthodoxy this Landfall is a present worth unwrapping.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Landfall 237: Autumn 2019
Edited by Emma Neale
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531731

 

Book Review: The Unreliable People, by Rosetta Allan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_unreliable_peopleIn 1974 in Kazakhstan, then part of the USSR, a little girl is abducted from her bed. Several days later, the girl arrives back, the abductor having suddenly changed her mind. In 1994, in St Petersburg, Antonina navigates her art studies, a new city in newly broken-up Russia, and a search for her identity.

Antonina was the girl who was abducted by the mysterious Katerina. She is of the Koryo-saram people; a group of Koreans who had immigrated to Russia in the 19th century, settling in the far east of Siberia. They have a long and complicated history that can’t be done justice in a book review; The Unreliable People does deal in some depth with the forced deportation of the entire Koryo-saram population from Siberia to Central Asia in the 1930s. Antonina knows a little about her past and the history of her people, and much of the narrative of the story is her slow uncovering of her own stories. Antonina’s character is the most developed in the story; her mother, two best friends and Katerina are all more sketch-like.

Allan’s descriptions of scenes and landscapes are evocative, and you can see the shabby streets of St Petersburg and the windswept Kazakh steppes easily in your mind’s eye. The narrative moves between time periods and locations, and towards the end also shifts in focus between main characters, which was a little jarring.  The most compelling part of the story for me was Katerina’s experiences during the deportation from Siberia to Kazakhstan, which were horrific and tragic in equal measure – a piece of history I hadn’t been aware of, and certainly nothing that enhances Stalin’s reputation. Other aspects of recent history are touched on such as the breakup of the USSR and nuclear testing.

I enjoyed The Unreliable People, although it took me a while to get the hang of 1994 St Petersburg and its art world. With themes of love, loss, identity and redemption, it has a lot going on, and will appeal to readers who like their books to have a bit of depth.

by Rachel Moore

The Unreliable People
by Rosetta Allan
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143773566

Book Review: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_te_tiriti_o_waitangi.jpgToby Morris is a cartoonist and illustrator who will be familiar to many New Zealanders as the creator of The Side Eye on The Spinoff Website. He’s well known for his commentary on social issues, and has also written books including Don’t Puke On Your Dad: A Year in the Life of a New Father and The Day the Costumes Stuck.

The Treaty of Waitangi\Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a flip book – one way the text is in English, turn it upside down and you have a Te Reo Māori version. The English text was originally published in two articles in the School Journal and has been developed into a graphic book by Morris.

The text is straight-forward, as you’d expect for something that was written for young people. It is factual and non-emotive, and lays out the timeline up to the Treaty being signed in 1840, and then what happened afterwards. It’s the same narrative that you’ll find in museums and libraries across the country. It’s Morris’s illustrations that bring the text to life. Starting with the cover, which depicts a wide variety of people from different eras, you know that what you’re about to read is about people, not about legal arguments. This makes the book accessible to anyone, regardless of their prior knowledge or attitude towards Te Tiriti.

This book should be in every home in the country.  It should be in every school and public library and given to every new migrant who arrives to live in New Zealand as part of a welcome package. As Morris’s narrator says at the end of the English version: ‘What happened [after the Treaty was signed] wasn’t always the nicest story, but we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  If we’re honest about our country’s past, we can try to fix some of the damage that still affects us today.  We all want a country that’s fair for everyone.’

It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Treaty of Waitangi|Te Tiriti o Waitangi
by Toby Morris with Ross Calman and Mark Derby
Published by Lift Education
ISBN 9780473470654