Book Review: Living among the Northland Māori – the diary of Father Antoine Garin, edited by Peter Tremewan and Giselle Larcombe

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_living_among_the_northland MaoriLiving among the Northland Māori reproduces Father Antoine Garin’s diaries between 1844 and 1846. Garin (1810-1889) was a French missionary priest in northern New Zealand (including in the upper Kaipara, the setting of these diaries), before settling in Nelson where he played a key role in ensuring provision was made for catholic education there and beyond, a legacy that has continued into the present.

However, these diaries are his insight into life in Northland when it was still very much a Māori land, when British government in New Zealand was confined to a few settlements. The rivers of this area were its highways, figs of tobacco were its currency, and tapu and tikanga Māori were its law and lore.

The threat of warfare over breaches of tapu was a fact of life, and figures like Hone Heke loomed large in Māori and Pākehā minds. The book includes a speech by Garin on the Northern Wars, and his diaries illustrate how Māori and Pākehā had observed these storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

Garin’s diaries describe a corner of New Zealand not heavily populated today, but whose rivers were once densely populated by Māori pā and kāinga, a short paddle and hike from key colonial centres. And because this book takes place in an area that retains a certain mystery, Garin’s descriptions of its people and places sweep readers away, as most will have no preconception of them.

Garin paints a truly vivid picture of life in frontier Northland – its food, weather, the Māori routes Pākehā were beginning to tread. We trudge with Garin through swamps and impenetrable forests, we settle into makeshift accommodation on overnight trips and dig into impromptu hangi, and on the way home we hear the songs Garin diligently notes down as he glides along rivers that are mostly smooth but sometimes wild enough to interrupt his jottings.

But just as Garin lulls us into this missionary idyll, we are awoken by the gunshots that once echoed through the north to mark deaths, celebrations, or coming war parties, or by the torrential rain pounding on our precarious shack, while we await a more permanent home – a lengthy process that seems unbelievable in the shadow of seemingly endless kauri forests.

The diaries are full of humour, affection, and sometimes tension. We chuckle as Garin battles his protestant counterpart on points of scripture and worry with him about the diplomatic implications of missteps in translation between French, English and te reo.

Garin’s love for his new flock is evident and noted by his Māori neighbours. Unlike many other protestant and catholic missionaries, Garin spends (and records) nights and days in local kāinga, administering medicine (when tapu allowed it), acting as a trade intermediary, and teaching and learning too. Garin was fluent in the Māori language and its customs, enabling him to convince both impressionable youths and powerful rangatira to join his flock.

As Garin relates each day’s events, we follow the peaks and troughs of local dramas and intrigues. But his diary also immerses us in a deeper contemplation of the changes underway as he wrote, challenging our preconceptions of early encounters between Māori and Pākehā.

As well as his own inner thoughts, Garin also faithfully reproduces conversations with Māori, often in te reo, providing a valuable glimpse into how Māori of the time saw their changing surroundings.

Surprisingly for a Catholic priest, and demonstrating Garin’s open-mindedness and curiosity, there are detailed discussions of the workings of Māori beliefs, of the now unimaginably intricate system of tapu and its governance of the Māori world. Ironically, the diaries may offer a more accurate glimpse into traditional Māori beliefs than a cool academic study ever could.

Another fascinating titbit is Garin’s tracing of non-verbal forms of Māori communication, the codes and symbols that would guide travellers in the forest or keep track of who was winning in an argument, a form of written language few Pākehā might suspect Māori ever had.

Garin’s diaries are never dry (either in climate or in mood) and are an engrossing read I will frequently return to. This is a taonga of a book, and its few but stunning paintings and images highlight rather than saturate Garin’s written portrayal of his life in the Kaipara. It is a remarkable doorway into early New Zealand that will leave the reader feeling that these eloquently told (and excellently translated) experiences have become their own.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Living among the Northland Māori – the diary of Father Antoine Garin 1844-1846
edited by Peter Tremewan and Giselle Larcombe
Published by Canterbury University Press
ISBN 9781988503028

Book Review: Beyond the Stethoscope, by Lucy Mayes

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_beyond_the_stethoscope.jpgBeyond the Stethoscope features 25 doctors’ stories, including one by author Lucy Mayes’ husband. It is an unusual book, quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and it’s hard to know how to describe it.

The stories are from both male and female doctors predominantly from New Zealand and Australia (there are two overseas doctors also), and the stories are in some instances extremely personal. Some are beautifully written and a joy to read, but others are quite hard to follow and their narrative is not clear.

The book reads like a series of academic papers – each written by a doctor with a different viewpoint on an issue, even if there are some overarching themes that attempt to tie them all together. As each voice is different, it’s hard to get a cohesive whole and this is evident as you move from one story – and one style of care – to the next.

Several names are familiar (in fact one doctor was at my local practice a year or so back) and many stories are incredibly moving and enlightening. Medicine has changed so much in the past 50 years and it’s obvious it’s not just patients getting frustrated with waiting weeks for appointments and then having their concerns packaged into 10-minute slots. It’s quite confronting reading that the doctors don’t enjoy this style of care either, that they want to know more about their patients and assist their journey to wellness, not just treat the illnesses they present with.

As someone who has had great doctors and not so great doctors (and who is currently changing practices after being assigned her fifth doctor in seven months), it is heartening to hear that some doctors are fighting back and embracing other ways of treating patients. I hope their efforts catch on and the idea of wellness over illness becomes the norm – although sadly I don’t think the Chinese system where a doctor is paid to keep a patient well and not paid when they are ill will ever catch on here!

One of the most moving stories is actually by Mayes’ husband, Dr Richard Mayes. His caring nature is evident, and the demands placed on doctors quite horrifying. He’s very open about the pressures he faced and how he dealt with them and I hope his story inspires others to say ‘enough is enough, something must change’. I want to see a doctor who cares about my wellness and who tells me what I need to be doing to keep well. I don’t want to be dosed with pills when a recommendation to get more exercise and eat and drink healthily may be all that’s required to ‘cure’ my ills.

I finished this book after being discharged from a couple of days in hospital that resulted from being overprescribed antibiotics, so I’m keen to hear stories from doctors who care and want the system to be changed for the better. I hope if nothing else, this book will mean other voices will join them in calling out for change.

The fact some stories are very well written and others are not makes me wonder if Mayes interviewed each doctor and then typed up their notes or whether the stories were supplied ready to go. Either way, some judicious editing would have avoided instances where homophones mean the wrong words have been used and where words are missing from sentences.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Beyond the Stethoscope – Doctors’ stories of reclaiming hope, heart and healing in medicine
by Lucy Mayes
Published by Heart Works Press
ISBN 9780648182726

Book Review: ransack, by essa ranapiri

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cv_ransack.jpgessa was the first (and is the only) person to ever ask me what my preferred pronouns are. It came in the middle of an unrelated messenger conversation, just a simple ‘Not to be rude or anything what are your pronouns? [sic]’ So for the first time in my life, completely casually, I told someone outside of my immediate close friend group that I don’t feel 100% comfortable using “woman” as an identifier. And then we went back to discussing the LitCrawl after party.

It seems like such a simple thing, like ticking a box on a form. She/Her, He/Him, They/Them. But more often than not that last box isn’t available for ticking. And that is the space that essa writes from, where many of the poems in ransack have been created. This collection takes that missing box, that void, and fills it to the brim with the previously unacknowledged.

Ransack is like a petri dish. When you read it you feel like you are examining a living thing through a microscope. There are scientific equations scattered throughout, so many references to the sea, an earthiness that is almost visceral. At times while reading it I felt the same feelings of awe I feel while watching a David Attenborough nature documentary.

Perhaps it’s that essa has lived a life where they, and everyone around them, has viewed their mind and body with a cool impersonal remove. They state in the poem the nonbinary individual:  ‘This shouldn’t tell you much because gender shouldn’t tell you anything / about a person.’

There is a yearning throughout many of the poems in ransack, a sense that essa just wants to be accepted for who they are, and yet they are still trying to figure out for themself exactly who that is.

There are a number of poems addressed to Orlando, the titular character of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, who begins the book as a boy, and at the age of around 30 wakes up one day as a woman, spending the rest of the book as such. You get the sense reading The Dear Orlando series that this character is a stand in for a real life confidante or role model. In the first Dear Orlando poem, which is the first poem of the collection, essa writes ‘I think about your gender as I think about my own. Would you find that funny Orlando? And would you let me make it a running joke?’

And so essa does, inserting Dear Orlando poems in between poems about their childhood, discordant and frenetic poems about growing up, about love, body dysmorphia, suicide, colonialism, multiple classical references, and references to classic literature. There are also Māori creation stories and genealogies. They sit comfortably in amongst everything else to complete the origin story of essa.

In the poem Koare, essa writes:
My path is Tūrongo
who went to the east
and Māhinaarangi in whose womb
Raukawa slept.

A line direct to myself

In a world which so often doesn’t make space for non-binary and gender fluid people, essa is clearly carving out their own space in ransack. And by doing so, with unapologetic and raw words, they are making space for others to follow. I can imagine one day in the future a young poet will publish a collection full of poems addressed the poem Dear essa.

reviewed by Gem Wilder

ransack
by essa ranapiri
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562374

Book Review: How to Escape from Prison, by Dr Paul Wood

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cv_how_to_escape_from_prisonPaul Wood was convicted of murder and imprisoned at age eighteen spending the next eleven years in Mt Crawford, Paremoremo, and Rimutaka prisons.

He has recorded these years in a recently released book How to Escape From Prison, a harrowing read of a young man’s journey with drug addiction and violence before his escape from his “mental prison’ enabled him to complete a degree while still in prison.

A mental prison Wood explains is a ‘set of distorted or misguided beliefs that condition our view of ourselves and the choices available to us, that prevent us from seeing clearly what we might achieve if we chose to live freely.’

Growing up in Wellington, Wood progressed from fighting with his brothers and dropping out of school, as well as becoming caught up in the drug scene before killing his drug dealer with a baseball bat, three days after the death of his mother.

How to Escape from Prison records Paul’s life behind bars and the people he meet inside who encouraged his road to redemption and the completion of a masters degree in psychology. He commenced further study for a doctorate while in prison completing this on his release and graduating on 2011.

The writing style is simple and easy to follow although the graphic detailing of the drug taking and prison life is at times overwhelming and I felt enormous relief as Paul Woods found his pathway to freedom through study. He said, “Once I discovered reading, I began to read voraciously”, and throughout the book he has included many quotations from books which assisted in his rehabilitation. His Five Steps to Freedom outlined in part two of the book include good advice and strategies to help people escape their mental prisons, and he has also shared “a list of things that assist in the development and exercise of self-control” which he calls “Willpower 101”.

Paul Wood lives in Wellington and is a motivational speaker and leadership and personal development specialist. He contributes regularly to the media and works with charities that focus on helping young men avoid prison or reintegrate on release. How to Escape from Prison is an inspiring read and valuable resource for anyone needing help to fulfil their potential and turn their dreams into reality.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

How To Escape from Prison
by Dr Paul Wood
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN‎: ‎9781775541196

Book Review: High Adventure, by Mike Allsop

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cv_high_adVenturey.jpgMike Allsop realised at an early age he had ambitions not to be ordinary. No person could be ordinary that dreamed of becoming a pilot – yet he had no idea how he was going to achieve this goal.  Luck is not something that falls off a tree, it’s something that is either in our souls before we are born or comes out of extraordinary sheer determination to achieve.

An airline pilot, a mountaineer who sees adventure as part of everyday life.  Mix this up with a wife and two children and you have a set of parents that decide their children are going to part of this exciting journey.

Mike and his wife Wendy decided that on each of their 3 children’s 7th birthdays Mike would take each of them in turn on an adventure into the Himalayas.  This became a ritual in the family with each child planning for months beforehand what they wanted to get out of this wonderful adventure.  The challenges and the people they met that became life-long friends.  Because of the success of these trips he and Wendy decided he would also get each child to plan an adventure to celebrate their fourteenth birthdays.

I absolutely loved this book.  Mike’s enthusiasm and writing ability took me every step of the way of each of his and his families various adventures. What a wonderful bonding experience each child in his family had.  I highly recommend this book to any reader that loves adventure in any shape or form.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

High Adventure – The Adventure Doesn’t End When You Become A Dad
by Mike Allsop
A & U New Zealand
ISBN 9781760633622

 

Book Review: Meltwater, by Suzanne Ashmore

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cv_meltwater.jpgSuzanne Ashmore’s Meltwater is a fractured and deeply personal novel, accurately hailed as a powerful ‘homage to storytelling’. Meltwater depicts the abusive childhood of Elizabeth and the lingering effect of that trauma following her through life. However, the novel in no way follows traditional methods of storytelling. Elizabeth has thirteen different ‘selves’ created to bury and protect their host, Elizabeth, from memories of her abuse.

This creates a splintered telling of Elizabeth’s life, as she jumps from memory to memory – some detached, some inconsistent, some uncontrollable, others passionate. Ashmore herself describes Meltwater as ‘rhizomatic’ – something with no single beginning, “always in the middle, between things, inter-being.” This perfectly describes the fluid nature of the novel – there are loose ends which are not tied, there are people who move in and out of Elizabeth’s life, people who are not mentioned again. Ideas start and stop, they flourish and they die. The ebbs and flows with Elizabeth’s emotions, aches with her confusion and exhaustion as she loses pieces of her past.

Elizabeth’s thirteen ‘selves’, particularly the narrator of the story and the ‘secret keeper’ Beatrice, steal memories to protect her from her trauma. This leaves large gaps in Elizabeth’s sense of self, especially as she grows older and longs to remember. There is a constant and fatiguing struggle within Elizabeth and her parts that are “born out of chaos”. From headstrong Lydia who always says what’s on her mind, to flirtatious Jessica longing for someone to love, and to love her – they all ‘take control’ of Elizabeth when life gets to be too much.

This means Elizabeth is, at times, detached from herself and her life, unable to ground herself. As memories are uncovered and moments unfold, she is lost, both literally and in her mind. At times, the memories are blurred and full of echoes, other times they are clear, silent, or in slow-motion.

Though detached, the descriptions in Meltwater are visceral and moody – from the hanging “paper-thin” Southern Alps to the tears of Taranaki, Ashmore’s prose is beautifully constructed. She paints on the page through Elizabeth’s thoughts, much like the art she later goes on to create.

There will be times in Meltwater where you need to put the book down – where Elizabeth’s pain is overwhelming. That in itself is compliment to Ashmore’s powerful yet graceful style. Meltwater is chilling, haunting, but most of all it is a brave and triumphant journey of a woman freeing herself from her past.

Reviewed by Susanna Elliffe

Meltwater
by Suzanne Ashmore
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473472313

Book Review: The Kiwi – Endangered New Zealand Icon, by Matt Elliott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the-kiwi.jpgThe Kiwi has long held a special place in the hearts of most New Zealanders. Few of us have actually seen or heard one, but we know all about them. Or do we? Matt Elliott has embarked on an exciting journey to inform his reader about this amazing bird.

The subtitle gives you a clue to his approach. ‘Endangered’ allows him to look at the scientific facts. He describes all five species with illustrations and locations. He writes about sanctuaries both in New Zealand and overseas.  The dangers to the Kiwi include stoats, dogs and humans. His chapter on the use of 1080 is perhaps one of the clearest, most reasoned pieces of writing on 1080 use that I have read.

‘New Zealand’ includes kiwis importance to Māori as well as the use of the Kiwi on products and in advertising campaigns. The giant Kiwi in Eketahuna gets a mention, along with Kiwi pies and Kiwifruit.

‘Icon’ reminds us that we are known as kiwis ourselves when travelling. Who could forget the Buy NZ Made campaign that used the kiwi to remind us to support local businesses?

The Kiwi is the result of some extensive research, unearthing a wealth of little known information. I learnt that Roy Rogers sang about The Kee Wee Bird. I only remembered his song about the Little White Duck. Matt Elliott is an award-winning author writing for both adults and children. His love of history and skills as a researcher are evident in this book.

The illustrations and layout of The Kiwi make this an ideal introduction to our special bird. Both visitors and locals will discover a treasure trove of information between the covers. The final illustration by the author’s 5-year-old son begs the question: Will there still be Kiwi for his son to celebrate in 50 years.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Kiwi: Endangered New Zealand Icon
by Matt Elliott
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995110458