Book Review: Hot Flush, by Rosy Fenwicke

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 

cv_hot_flush.jpgAlong with death and taxes, menopause is a guarantee in life if you are female. Although many women would also agree that men go through a manopause, but that is an entirely different subject all together. So really this is a book that has the potential to be a compulsory read for every woman. And so it should be!!! Not because of the big M and the many negatives that word and state of being evoke,  but because it is a delightful, funny, slightly silly, uplifting, and very absorbing novel. The cover: who can resist a pug and a designer handbag?

The pug, going by the adorable name of Petal, belongs to Euphemia Sage, a 53 year old woman, happily married to Kenneth with whom she owns and manages a business consultancy – Sage Consulting. Both born and brought up in Wellington, they live close to the CBD, have two adult daughters and life is pretty peachy. Euphemia however knows that she has a predetermined destiny – she is genetically programmed, as the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter and so on back through time, that she will develop superhuman powers all in the name of doing good in the world. She has no idea what form all this will take but is very excited about the prospect of amazing things happening to her.

And suddenly they do! An old school friend, Jane, is in some serious trouble, and it appears that Sage Consulting’s frumpy, grumpy, bedraggled receptionist Alison is somehow involved. Kenneth isn’t much help as he has disappeared with Jane’s husband and a few others to a weekend long golf tournament, leaving Euphemia, Jane and Petal to face up to the baddies.

You could quite easily see how this could descend into farce, complete silliness, stereotyped characters, and general mayhem. Well, let me tell you, it does not. This is as much a story of menopausal empowerment as it is a story of friendship, family, and simply getting on with it. Euphemia is such a great character – down to earth, hard working, determined, ever curious. She  has her intolerances with people she knows as we all do, her husband is not perfect as most husbands aren’t, but she still loves him as most of us do too. This all makes her so relatable that her superpowers when they do show themselves, are exciting and amazing, and not weird or creepy as one may think. She knows how to kick butt, and she does. The other characters – Jane, Alison, Malcolm, Grant, daughters Kezia and Nicky, are all very real people. There is some cliche attached to each, but they are also very human in their goodness/badness, the reader glimpsing into their makeup and motivations.

I loved this, just loved it, reading it one Friday night when I had the house to myself, a glass of wine in hand, well, more than one actually, music playing and the cat stretched out on my legs. Totally perfect. I cannot wait to read the sequel to this No Sweat.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Hot Flush
by Rosy Fenwicke
Published by Wonderful World
ISBN 9780473389550

Book Review: The Political Years, by Marilyn Waring

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_political_years.jpgMarilyn Waring is a high profile academic with a long record of publications and service, and an international audience. So one wonders why she wants to write about her time as a very young National Party MP in the Muldoon era, a dismal period for government, in which she eventually became overwhelmed by the events of 1984 and the early election. Does she really need to set the record straight after so long?

In fact, it is good that she does return to the detail of what happened in the late 1970s and 80s to set the record straight. This book is much better on the detail of both policy and Parliamentary practice than most political biographies written soon after the events, and often at a rather mundane level. For example, Waring at one stage refers to her Parliamentary salary, how much she paid in tax and put into superannuation, and that she had to pay the support staff in her electorate and Parliamentary offices.

The main theme of the book can be seen from the choice of the photograph on the cover. Muldoon and his caucus appear on some steps in the Beehive for a publicity shot. Amongst all the bad suits and haircuts of the middle aged men one can see a lone woman in a very long skirt, clearly much younger than her colleagues. Yet the 23-year-old Waring does not appear in the back row, as the new backbench MP, but is near the front, just behind the male leadership. Waring writes that being the only woman in the caucus was gruelling, but she was also useful for electoral purposes.

There seems an inevitability about it all ending very badly for Waring, even without her own commitment to feminism and the political issues of the time. When she also actively campaigned against the 1981 Springbok Tour, including being assaulted at the Hamilton ground where the pitch was invaded, it is a wonder she even made it through the following election. But there is the point for those wondering why on earth she was actually in the National Party, when other feminist women from the Waikato ended up in the Labour Party: the political parties were different then.

Most of the interest in this book will be from feminist writers and those looking at political history on the basis of more female participation. But the book also comes so long after the events that most of the male protagonists are now deceased, or not active in public life. The main story might be how, from a very low base, more female candidates were elected and more positions of power were assumed by women.

But one has to look at Waring’s book from another angle, and not based solely on gender politics. Waring was obviously a star student, and was encouraged into Parliamentary work by political scientists, who continued to support her. She also received a lot of local support in her electorate, and was able to shift that support after her Raglan electorate boundaries were re-drawn for the 1978 election. She also had a lot of opportunities for international travel, for study and official purposes, including a British parliamentary visit in 1980, and a Harvard fellowship the following year.

Waring made the most of her opportunities, including unplanned ones, like being in Jamaica at the time of Bob Marley’s funeral in 1980. Perhaps it was not all bad. It certainly compares better than recent examples of younger National Party MPs.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

The Political Years
by Marilyn Waring
Published by BWB Books
ISBN 9781988545936


Book Review: Working the Tang, by Nicola Easthope

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_working_the_tang.jpgKāpiti Coast dweller Nicola Easthope’s second collection, Working the Tang, plays on the word Tang’s multi-layered meanings. In Old Norse it is a spit of land, as well as the point of a knife and the place where the sharp piece is inserted into the handle; in Middle English it is a serpent’s tongue believed to sting; in the Orkney Islands it is the seaweed growing on the rocks above low tide, and ‘wirkin’ the tang’ refers to the eighteenth-century kelp-burning industry. Easthope says it is ‘the salt in the ocean winds’ and ‘the pressures and flavours that sharpen my writing’.

The book cover shows us two women, warmly wrapped in headscarves and long skirts, in what seems to be a hostile and chilly landscape. Stare at the picture and you can almost feel the cold, smell the smoke of the fire they tend and the salt of the seaweed as it burns. Easthope’s poems strongly feature the ocean, speaking not only of the Coast where she now lives, but also reaching back into the past, across the sea to her British ancestors.

The poems in this collection make for a feast that is both sweet and tart. Our first taste is the catchy ‘Salt blood song’:

I’m six parts loch ’n’ whisky
I’m two parts iron ‘n’ rose
I’m four parts gorse ‘n’ heather
I’m four parts broch ‘n’ stone

Leaving the Scottish ghosts to fend for themselves, the reader arrives at ‘Terra Australis Incognita (after Captain James Cook)’, where we find Captain Cook regarding the sight of smoke on land and thinking that this is a ‘favourable opportunity’. His promises – ‘you will come to no hurt’ – are undercut by the line ‘The cliffs are crumbling, the Indian lies / dead upon the ground’. Moving on again, the ghost of James K. Baxter crashes his own anniversary seminar to knock some microphones about. A teacher stares woebegone at the pile of papers to be marked on her desk: ‘Oh, decrepit red pen! Oh, bloody Monday!’ And the poet asks (with wry humour) the just question:

When you say
women don’t earn
the same rate of pay
as men
because of the number
of absences due to
monthly sickness

does that mean
now that I am peri-menopausal
I will get a pay raise?

Easthope’s awareness of the natural world around her and the human damage inflicted on the planet appears in the sight of chicks unsuccessfully trying to vomit up small bits of ingested plastic – ‘an immortal coil of cap-tube-bottle’. At last we arrive at a lover in a 45 degree bath, rock pools reflecting silver, and a daughter’s birthday. There’s plenty of the flavour of contemporary life. From pop songs to rock star posters to roller skating to twitter, to date nights with Pineapple Lumps on ice. More seriously, ‘White pearls, hanging ears’ reminds readers of the importance of listening to other points of view, and being aware of Pākeha privilege.

Easthope’s style is engaging and personal, but also elevated, patient, poetic. Some poems place the landscape before us and allow us to form our own conclusions. Others take us directly into a busy day, or into the bends and turns of thought. There is a willingness to experiment with poetic style: changing line breaks and leaving space between words, some of which amounts to offering readers a map and allowing them to choose the way between the phrases themselves. The poems are practised, but fresh.

Savour this collection slowly. It’ll definitely leave a tang.

Reviewed by Susannah Whaley

Working the Tang
by Nicola Easthope
Published by The Cuba Press
ISBN 9780995110724

Book Review: Home Child – A Child Migrant in New Zealand, by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Trish Bowles

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_home_childSarah-Rose has a Gran with an interesting family story.  It’s a story about children taken away from their families in Great Britain, put on a ship, and sent all the way to New Zealand.

London in 1950, just after the war.  Pat was 11 years old, on a ship to New Zealand with her brother and sisters, none of them knowing what was ahead of them. It became even harder as time went on to even remember her mothers’ face or what the old lino floor back home even looked like. Their family was very poor and after their mother left, they really struggled. They had no sheets or pillows and only old army coats to keep the family warm at night. Their dad just worried about how he was going to cope so suggested that they would be better off in New Zealand, believing it was temporary, and perhaps like Blackpool it would remind them of home.  They were the poorest family in their street in London.

The day the children left home was cold but they were all wrapped up warm. They took the bus to the train station. Farewells were hard, with tears. The train stopped at the docks. What an occasion, with lots of other children, some with families and others with none, being boarded onto the ship for the long journey to New Zealand.

When they arrived in Wellington, New Zealand they stayed the night at a children’s home. They then boarded another boat, a much smaller one that took them to the South Island. They then boarded a bus that took them to Nelson. Pat and her brother and sisters had hoped to be together in their new home, but their new “Aunty and Uncle” didn’t want all of them – only Pat and her sister Shelia.

This is a story of another era. Today’s generation would be horrified of the idea of families being separated like this. We live in a different world, thanks to technology, with instant communication around the world. If for some reason families had to be split up in a war-torn country and moved to another, at least they could keep in touch if both parties had the capacity. Many lost touch during this time in the 1950’s never seeing any of their families again.

While Pat didn’t see her dad again, this story does have a happy ending, and is a valuable piece of history for children to learn about.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Home Child – A child migrant in New Zealand
by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Trish Bowles
Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506582

Book Review: Filming the Colonial Past – The New Zealand Wars on Screen, by Annabel Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_filming_the_colonial_pastThe New Zealand Wars have given filmmakers from early days a rich source of material.  One of the earliest filmmakers was Rudall Hayward, who initially made silent movies.  He made 3 films featuring the New Zealand Wars. They were The Lady of the Cave 1922, Rewi’s Last Stand 1925 and The Te Kooti Trail in 1927. A remake of Rewi’s Last Stand in 1940 brought this film into the era of sound.

Rudall Hayward’s family emigrated to New Zealand when he was 4 years old from England. His family came from a line of entertainers, touring with variety shows that included short films, sometimes locally made ones. Early films often depicting Māori were Europeans with their bodies dyed brown – shocking, and not at all convincing. Hayward’s instinctive showmanship combined with genuine interest in making films about Aotearoa generated community involvement in his projects.  They also drew in local townspeople and iwi.

This involvement with communities and local iwi has continued throughout the decades in New Zealand. It has become a very important part of telling of the history of how the relationship between Pākehā and Māori has developed through the centuries. The history of our own country is important and needs to be told – filmmaking is an excellent way of doing this.

Politics has also played an important part in how the stories are told, including the amount of money available to be able to portray and ensure these stories can be told.  Television played an important part in this. Television drama series The Governor and independent film Utu, enlisted Māori advisors Don Selwyn, Merata Mita and Joe Malcolm.

Full length feature films River Queen and Rain of the Children were made with mixed reception by critics and the public alike. Many saw River Queen as a bit of a disaster, with delays in production because of lack of money and one of the main actors becoming ill.

Over the years Māori have become part of the mainstream acting community but in early years of colonial film-making, they were not encouraged to apply for parts. They were not seen as having the ability to portray what the writers and directors saw as qualities which would be accepted by the general viewing public.

As well as a change in the number of Māori actors, there has been an uptick in the number of Māori directors, with a number of well known and respected Māori film directors being part of film making history worldwide. Taika Waita and Lee Tamahori are two that a number of us have heard about – especially if you are a movie goer. Taika’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople in 2016 gives a sideways glance to The Te Kooti Trail as the young hero Ricky (Julian Dennison) tells Bella (Rima Te Waita), ‘I’m a Maori warrior and that bottle over there is a British Soldier, I’m defending my wives’.

Lee Tamahori has directed a number of very successful films here and overseas but the one most of us remember was Once were Warriors, which shocked a lot of New Zealand audiences who found the subject matter rather confronting.  When he moved to Hollywood, he worked on films Die Another Day (the James Bond film from 2002) and The Edge. 

The cost of producing historical drama have continued to rise but new technologies have reduced the cost of screen stories in other genres. Most films are now shot digitally, drones have replaced helicopters, and editing has become digitised.

One area of change that most of us of the older generation have noticed is that technology has replaced travel guide books. Travellers who want to engage with the past may choose a digital guide, the Waikato War Driving Tour app, a history of the wars created by the Māori Heritage team of Heritage New Zealand in 2013. More recently, The Ministry for Culture and Heritage have developed an app – The 1846 War in Wellington. They have connected sites, allowing a traveller to follow the paths of the wars while listening to the words of people who fought at each place.

This book is certainly a comprehensive and detailed look at film-making in New Zealand. While I found it a bit heavy going at times, it was overall a fascinating and enjoyable read.  Who would it appeal to?  Anybody really with a fascination with film and TV documentary and drama productions.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Filming the Colonial Past – The New Zealand Wars on Screen
by Annabel Cooper
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN: 9781988531083

AWF19: Vincent O’Malley gives the Michael King Memorial Lecture

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa will be back in stock nationwide this week.

pp_vincent_omalley.jpgFriday lunchtime at the 2019 Auckland Writers’ Festival and the ASB Theatre was packed out to hear Vincent O’Malley talk about The New Zealand Wars. He challenged us from the very start. We are still a nation in shock from the Christchurch massacre, so you could feel the attention of the audience focus on the speaker when he said this wasn’t an unprecedented event. The change of mood was tangible. Māori lost their lives in a similar way. O’Malley’s message is a simple one. We need to grow up. We need to act like grown-ups and own our history, warts and all. In the past we have chosen to ignore the story, in the same way we tossed aside the Treaty of Waitangi for over a century. Now we must recognise the profound influence that The New Zealand Wars have had on us all.

O’Malley spoke eloquently for an hour, filling in the gaps in our knowledge, helping to educate his audience. Two of his recent books have been very influential in moving our understanding forwards, first the massive The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 in which he states that our defining conflict did not take place on the Western Front or at Gallipoli, but in the Waikato from 1863-64. A war of conquest and invasion by the Crown. His latest book, The New Zealand Wars: Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa, was launched just before the festival. At 270 pages against the almost 700 pages of the earlier book, this seeks to be a digestible guide, something that can be read and used in schools as a basic text book.

O’Malley’s talk was full of facts, many of them surprising. For example, two-thirds of the British army during the New Zealand Wars were Irish, and many became disillusioned with what they were doing. There were too many parallels with the treatment of Ireland. Many of the soldiers ended up marrying the Māori women from the iwi they had conquered. They had been fighting against people who had no standing army, people who were fighting for their lives and their lands.

In the 1850s there was a brief time of peace and prosperity. O’Malley reminded us that at that time Māori were driving the economy and the country’s exports. They were producing enough food to feed large cities like Auckland as well as themselves. It was in the 1860s that peace was shattered, war broke out in Taranaki and it appears that Governor Grey was determined to destroy the Kingitanga. ‘There was nothing noble about the massacres,’ O’Malley reminded us, and the execution of hundreds in Gisborne is ‘a stain on our history’.

We are still living with the consequences of that time of war today. Three million hectares of land were confiscated, and those confiscations were indiscriminate, with those who did not fight or sided with the crown also losing their land. 20% of Māori in Gisborne were killed, compared to the 5% of the population that were killed in the First World War.

O’Malley’s call to action is that we teach our own history in our schools and look after our battle sites. We must make sure our children know about this and we must get around the hang-ups that the Ministry of Education still has about the whole subject. Only by doing this will we break some of the intergenerational problems that have built up. We need to lobby both local and central government for more to be done. The sites that relate to our history are often neglected and hard to find. We need to make people aware and interested, create trails and history that we can follow on the ground.

The talk ended with rapturous applause for O’Malley and all he is trying to do.

Reviewed by Marcus Hobson

The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa
by Vincent O’Malley
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN: 9781988545998

Book Review: With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in WW1, by Anna Rogers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_with_them_through_hellAlongside the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I, there was a large team of dedicated medical (and veterinary – New Zealand also sent about 10,000 horses) personnel who did everything they could to save lives and treat the injured. Anna Rogers has painstakingly researched the history of the medical services and tells their story in all its gory detail, right from the early days when female doctors, nurses and volunteers had a battle on their hands just to be allowed to serve overseas.

With Them Through Hell is an extremely comprehensive book on the medical services, more of a history textbook than a book you would sit down and read in one sitting. It certainly isn’t a jolly hockey-sticks tale of what went on – it’s a far more sobering and factual account, and anyone reading it will be shocked at the challenges they dealt with on a daily basis, both in the lead-up to their dispatch to the war zones and also during the conflicts.

Divided into four sections – Feeling the Heat; From Chaos to Care; Unexpected and Unsung; and Maimed and Mended, which are then further divided into a total of 16 chapters – the book goes into great detail about the part these medical personnel played in the war. There are numerous photographs (predominantly black and white, apart from reproductions of oil paintings) and also copies of letters and cartoons. The photographs illustrate the conditions they worked under, but the text carries far more detail about the hardships they endured during the war.

It must be hard to tell the story of so many people over many years without using quotes from both published and unpublished sources, but I found the quoted material tended to slow my reading of much of the book. This was particularly noticeable in some sentences that contained more than one partial quote, as there was no attribution alongside. The book is substantial, so flicking to the footnotes at the back was not something I wanted to keep doing, and often the source would just be given as a newspaper article.

I read the introduction and then dipped in and out of the book, reading chapters that particularly interested me rather than reading from start to finish in sequence. As each chapter is comprehensive in itself, this is a reasonable way to proceed.

It is great that the medical services’ dedication to duty has been recognised and given its own tribute in With Them Through Hell. For historians and those who work in the medical services today, this book will be a fascinating history of the work carried out by medical personnel and the pioneering advances in treatment they made under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

With Them Through Hell: New Zealand Medical Services in the First World War
by Anna Rogers
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995100190