Book Review: And the Ocean was our Sky, by Patrick Ness

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_and_the_ocean_was_our_sky.jpgThis beautifully produced book is matched by the beautiful writing, and a concept that absolutely turns Moby Dick upside down. The allegorical nature of the story gives a great messages about tolerance, understanding, the nature of power and much more besides.

Bathsheba is a young whale who is one of three apprenticed to Captain Alexandra. They are hunting Toby Wick – but just what, or who, is Toby Wick? A ship, a whaler, a devil? you’ll have to read it to find out.

However, Patrick Ness has done it again – by which I mean he has created a story which instantly engages the reader: ‘call me Bathsheba. It is not my name, but the name I use for this story. A name, I hoped, that would be free of prophecy, free of the burden of a future placed upon it, free of any destiny that would tear it from my hands and destroy worlds. You think I overstate. You are wrong.’

Quite hard to stop reading after an opening paragraph like that. You’d think it would be hard to write a story from a whale’s perspective, but not to this author apparently. It’s a powerful narrative, occasionally violent – well, it is about whales and whaling! – and frequently extremely moving.

The stunning illustrations by Rovina Cai are a brilliant addition to the book, and visceral in their power. They are mostly black and white, which makes the red of blood leap off the page.

In any hierarchical group, human or animal, there are weaker and stronger characters, and challenging and difficult relationships when power is in play. Ness manages this extremely well, making the whales entirely credible as characters. The interplay of conversation and emotions between the captured sailor and Bathsheba is clever; the power of Captain Alexandra is well-conceived and well-described, and the whole book carries you along – the questions of morality which, to me, under-pin the whole story, are poignantly written, particularly at the closing of the story.

I think this would work well as a read-aloud to older kids, but I also think there’s much for the able reader of any age in this excellent book.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

And the ocean was our sky
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9780062877444

Book review: Bonkers about Beetles, by Owen Davey

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bonkers_about_beetlesIf you have a young coleopterist (beetle scientist) at home, you need this book! Owen Davey has created a book that is aesthetically pleasing, practical and exactly what the title says – it’s bonkers about beetles!

The book is structured so new concepts are introduced on each double page spread with lots of visual information to help young readers interpret what they read. It follows a non-fiction book structure, so there is a contents page and index for older readers to search for specific information. On the first page, the author shares the definition for a beetle (I’ll be honest, this is when I started to learn!). Our children at daycare particularly love the Guinness Book of Records-style pages at the end. It shares beetle highlights, including, which beetle is the heaviest, fastest and who has the best facial hair!

Owen Davey has perfectly pitched the text and explains complex ideas in a way that young children will understand. The book is filled with scientific knowledge and facts that will intrigue, amuse and amaze. Did you know the Bombardier beetle shots an explosion of burning liquid from its bottom? This is the information young children really want to know! Welcome to the beetle eat beetle world of poop, parasites and ladybirds.

This is a non-fiction picture book that wouldn’t look out of place on the coffee table. There are no photos, instead the beetles are computer illustrations which highlight the pattern and beauty of each insect. These are not cartoons but works of art! We google searched several of the illustrated beetles to see how accurate the graphic recreations are and were amazed at the dopplegangers in the book! The teacher in me sees so many opportunities for creating our own art pictures and talking about the patterns we can see.

Bonkers about beetles is our new favourite reference book to satisfy our curiosity about beetles. Any young child curious about the natural world will enjoy this treasure that dives deeply into the beetle world and it will spark many more insect hunts in the backyard.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Bonkers about beetles
by Owen Davey
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171485

Book Review: Ezaara, by Eileen Mueller

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_ezaara.jpgEzaara lives a relatively peaceful life in Lush Valley, learning swordcraft with her brother and collecting herbs for her mother. But things change when the dragon appears, and carries her away into a life she has only ever dreamed of. It is a life of danger and excitement, of intrigue and tangled politics, and Ezaara must prove her worth not only to the dragon council, but also to herself.

Written in an eloquent and gripping style, Ezaara intrigued me from the start, but it was only when our, relatively naive, heroine was thrust into the midst of conspiracy and corruption that it really clutched me tight, and kept me reading far too late into the night! Along with her relatively rural upbringing, Ezaara has a strong heart and fiery determination, but will she prove a worthy companion for the queen of the dragons? Her wits and skills – and also her emotions – will be tested to their limits, carrying the reader along, on an emotional rollercoaster ride of their own!

For the young adult market – and anyone who has ever wanted to befriend a dragon – Ezaara is a spell-binding tale of friendship, courage and determination.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Ezaara
by Eileen Mueller
Published by Phantom Feather Press
ISBN 9780995115200

Book Review: The Farewell Tourist, by Alison Glenny

Available from selected booksellers.

cv_the_farewell_tourish.jpgWith her Kathleen Grattan Poetry award-winning collection, The Farewell Tourist, Alison Glenny pushes the form of poetry to the edges, turning footnotes, dictionary definitions and letter fragments into their own kind of poetry. This is a book about absence, about white space and about how people grow apart even after being magnetized together.

Alison Glenny compiles in four distinct sections a heart-breaking story in poetry about absence and erasure. The poetry was found in Antarctica pulled from the snow with the snow still on it; ‘The practice of concealing part of a poem by covering it with snow’. The first section titled ‘The Magnetic Process’ is a narrative of lovers told in 29 parts, all prose poem fragments, that brings to mind the feel of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. These 29 parts show Glenny’s wonderful ability to evoke worlds in a matter of lines; ‘Growing up in a house filled with harps and bicycles, he / pursued nature with nets, a light trap, and a killing bottle.’ This line gives us a view into who one of protagonists are – this man who seeks to pull facts from the world. The parts move back forth between he and she, tracking how both characters live separately, where they intersect and ultimately return to lives without each other. This line from the end of the sequence takes the heart from you and places it gently on your tongue;

even the ghosts would depart. The pictures would walk out
of their frames and disappear, leaving only vacancy and
a scattering of loose snow.

With that, the reader is left in the space of absence, in the spaces of obfuscation, of erasure. The next long section is comprised of footnotes to observably blank pages. Glenny uses form to showcase the margins, the narratives that are obscured pushed to the side. With these Glenny paints a ghostly outline of a larger story; an absence that casts a white shadow over everything. This might sound all a bit too portentous, but rest assured the poetry is still full of little details that spark on the page; ‘He declared his intention of taking the ponies, five dozen sled / dogs, and “a motor car for use wherever there were no mountains”.’

The final section is comprised of fragments of correspondence; communication has been broken down by time and weather and the inability to express within the restrictions of language. You feel a pang in the side or an ache in the heart that has nothing to do with the nervous system and you can’t do anything to evoke what this conjured in you; you can only sit with it in vain. These fragments gesture towards everything unspoken. Glenny leaves us with these two lines that speak to so much while showing so little, the old iceberg cliché stands here;

You are twisted into my being
[The remainder of the letter is missing]

This collection is a beautiful snowfall that leaves you cold and reaching for warmth. It is a stunning achievement and a successful experiment with language and form. I look forward to reading more work by Glenny in the future, to witness the other ways in which Glenny evokes the unspoken.

Reviewed by essa ranapiri

The Farewell Tourist
by Alison Glenny
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531298

 

Book Review: The Seventh Cross, by Anna Seghers

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_seventh_crossFirst published in the US in 1942, this novel is the first unabridged English translation of the original, written by German born Jewish woman Anna Seghers. Of four copies Seghers made, only one made it to publication in the US, and even then it was posted from France, the others destroyed or disappeared. In 1944, a film starring Spencer Tracy based on this book was one of the few movies of the era to depict a European concentration camp.

As we continue to be deluged with both fiction and non-fiction, movies, TV series about the war, the Holocaust, the horrific and terrible cost, pain and loss of everything during WW2, this novel remains as relevant and important as it was 70 plus years ago.

George Heisler is a prisoner in a concentration camp near a town in Germany. Like the author, George is a communist, hence his imprisonment. Along with six others, one day he escapes. This is the story of that escape, how the others are caught, how George evades capture, how he learns who to trust and who not to trust, and how living on your wits is almost fatal work. The seven crosses are a creation of the ruthless and sadistic camp commander. As each prisoner is caught he is dragged back to the camp and tied to the cross erected for the purpose. Day after day the seventh cross remains empty.

Over the course of a very desperate week George returns to the town he came from – Mainz, where he has both good and bad luck in getting help for his continuing evasion from the Gestapo and SS. For the risk remains that he may be betrayed by any one of the people he meets, or that his contacts are in turn betrayed, or make an error that puts them and all their families at risk. It is a perilous world. But as we know, us humans can be capable of great risk taking for another person, and great acts of kindness. That George makes any progress at all is a miracle, but the biggest miracle is what he discovers about himself.

This novel is exquisitely written in its detail of daily life for the average German over this time. There is much putting the head in the sand amongst the citizens, the constant worry that ears are listening and possibly misinterpreting conversations, asides, who one is seen with. The SA, SS, Gestapo and Hitler Youth are everywhere, there is endless fear that one may put a foot wrong. Right up till the very last page, George’s plight could all go wrong.

This is neither a hard read nor an easy read. It is very detailed in the minutiae of daily life and there are a lot of characters, most of whom are peripheral to the actual plot. A character list at the beginning doesn’t do enough to introduce us to all the characters. However, this is a minor issue, as the story of George is really what carries the whole thing along. It would be great to see a remake of the 1944 movie.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Seventh Cross
by Anna Seghers
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9780349010670

 

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill 

Tara Black attended the first event in LitCrawl Extended 2018 last night.

‘I”m not interested in the politics of exoneration, I’m interested in when I was a dick.’ Kaveh Akbar.

Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill 1

Notes reproduced with permission of Tara Black, copyright Tara Black

LitCrawl Extended: Kaveh Akbar and Kim Hill
Thursday, 8 November 2018, Meow Bar
LitCrawl Extended runs until Sunday, 11 November

 

Book Review: Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_towards_democratic_renewal.jpgAt the time of reviewing this particular instalment on constitutional change from Professor Palmer, freedom of speech as a principle was being debated in New Zealand. This was caused primarily by some visiting Canadians, whose provocative views had resulted in them being declined a public venue in Auckland.

Freedom of speech and assembly are not really part of this book on constitutional change in New Zealand. Not just because we all take these basic freedoms for granted, and there is actually an existing Bill of Rights, but because the book is essentially about changing the institutions of political decision-making in New Zealand, especially with regard to how Parliament operates. This seems to be based on the somewhat surprising notion that Parliamentary sovereignty is too broad, and the authors refer to the apparent ‘untrammelled’ or ‘uncontrolled’ rule of Parliament.

This is in fact the second instalment of this academic exercise in constitutional change. The first book by the authors laid out their new constitution and now, having sought submissions from the public and the legal experts, they are offering their amendments to the original proposal. So most of the chapters reflect on the issues that have been raised in this ongoing process of constitutional reflection. Indeed there is even a chapter full of quotes from a variety of people who made public submissions. These include a long quote from someone using very offensive language that should never have been accepted, especially because the person was given anonymity. There are also a number of photos of the authors with groups of students in self-congratulatory poses.

That is not to say that there aren’t some very substantial proposals being put forward here. These include replacing the Governor-General with a new head of state, and therefore a form of republicanism. The removal of the term ‘the Crown’ from the New Zealand constitution, and thus from the legal system, could have profound implications for the Treaty of Waitangi and claims related to it. Then there are aspects of the political process that the authors don’t like relating to elections and the role of Parliament. Changes here include having a fixed four year term for Parliament, and giving the right to vote to 16-year-olds, if not making voting compulsory as well. Perhaps most significant would be the idea of giving the judiciary the power to review legislation, and, if deemed unconstitutional, to declare it invalid.

This power was apparently already there, but now needs to be broadened. The authors make the point that the international trade agreement (TTPA) would have allowed for corporations to challenge legislation that offended them. However, the authors do not address the loss of economic sovereignty at all, especially during the late 1980s when Palmer was a key legislator. But they do assess the role of certain legal cases that help make their case. One being that High Court review undertaken on behalf of the anti-TPPA campaigner, Professor Kelsey, which highlighted how the Official Information Act was not being complied with. The authors are all in favour of more transparency in government, and enhanced roles for Parliamentary officers (such as the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman). Just as long as Parliament itself is not allowed to pass its Acts under urgency anymore, and thus ruin certain landmark pieces of legislation.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Towards Democratic Renewal – Ideas for Constitutional Change in New Zealand
by Geoffrey Palmer & Andrew Butler
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561834