Book Review: My Father’s Ears, by Karen Goa

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_my_fathers_earsEvery family has a past, most of which is concealed in collective and individual whispers. The resulting silence creates wide gaps between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Yet the time eventually comes when some people, tired of distance, look for answers.

My Father’s Ears, the debut novel of New Zealand-based travel writer Karen Goa, tells the story of Sophia Sanzari, the daughter of an Italian-Canadian immigrant, Lou. Right at the beginning of the novel, Sophia finds out that she has a brother. His name is Alex and he comes all the way from New Zealand. The purpose of his visit in Canada is to get to know more about the history of the Sanzari family, now that he has a son.

At the arrival of Lou’s long-sought son, Sophia is initially sceptical. She gradually warms up to Alex and finds herself discovering new truths about her family, which has been pulled apart by their history of journeys and mysteries. She learns not only about Lou and Alex, but also her own mother, Rose. As he relates his childhood experiences, Lou (“Luigi” in Italian) reveals that he and his brother, Antonio, suffered at an internment camp during World War II. They faced abuse simply for belonging to the nation headed by the fascist dictator, Mussolini. What made matters worse for the boys was their separation from their mother and their sisters, Carmina and Margherita. Through her father Lou, Sophia learns about the bleak reality of war and loneliness, the eagerness to escape and the conflict between one’s needs and those of others.

This story of familial relationships is set against an emotional backdrop of war and immigration history. Through the character of Sophia, the story is painful, comical, dramatic, and sincere. And Goa’s skillful incorporation of Italian culture, language and gastronomy enlivens the narrative, inviting the reader to travel through time, from continent to continent, with the reassuring thought that anyone can open a door to the future despite a past of darkness.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

My Father’s Ears
By Karen Goa
Published by GoaNotesNZ
ISBN 9780473335878

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Book Review: Rich Man Road, by Ann Glamuzina

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.cv_rich_man_road

This is the story of two women from very different places whose paths cross in a brief but meaningful way in New Zealand, where the two migrants have made new lives for themselves.

The story is told primarily by Sister Mary Pualele, a novice nun, as she looks back – both over her own life and that of an older nun named Olga whom she has befriended, whose story unfolds in a diary which she has gifted to Pualele.

Olga escaped, with her mother and brother, from a small Dalmatian village overrun by Nazis in the latter part of World War II. She blames herself for a childish lie which led to a greater misunderstanding and family heartache. She carries the burden of the lie and its effect on her family til her dying days. Her fractured relationship with her estranged mother and resulting emotional abandonment is painful to read about. Olga concedes that it is to spite her communist mother, as much as it the comfort of familiar customs, that leads her to the Church.

Pualele arrives in Auckland, as a nine year old, to join an aunt and uncle for a chance at a “better life” in New Zealand. She longs to return to her village in Samoa, to her mother. Life in Auckland is loud and confusing. There is the constant whispered threat of being caught out as an “overstayer”. This is the era of dawn police raids, a shameful era of policing in New Zealand. Pualele is torn between her painful longing to return home to Samoa and guilt, knowing she is supposed to be grateful for the opportunity she is being given by her aunt and uncle. She prays that God will help her find the strength to face her new life and finds a sense of calmness in the Church that comforts her in a way no other place has done.

The author is of Croatian descent and Olga’s story was inspired by the experiences of her grandmother, aunts and uncle who were evacuated from Dalmatia to Egypt in the latter stages of World War II, and eventually made their home in Auckland.

The book is as much a recounting of immigrants’ experiences assimilating to New Zealand as it is a personal story of the two women. And it was this aspect that particularly held my interest. As a fourth-generation New Zealander, the challenges of trying to assimilate into a new country, whilst wanting to hold fast to one’s own culture, is not something I have experienced. And this after all is one of the reasons why reading is so important; the ability to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Even when it is our own very familiar part of the world.

“’Keep cool ‘til after school’, the man on the TV says every afternoon. She thought it very funny at first. Why would you want to be ‘cool’ when almost everyone she sees on the streets wears thick jumpers and coats? New Zealand isn’t hot at all. But it is a very strange country.”

This is not a long book, although slightly longer than a novella. It unfolds slowly but gracefully, with the intertwining of the two women’s stories. It is a story of love and loss, and of finding your identity. Rich Man Road is Ann Glamuzina’s first novel.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Rich Man Road
by Ann Glamuzina
Published by Eunoia Publishing
ISBN 9780994104731

Book Review: A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, by Jane Rawson

Available in selected bookstores.cv_a_wrong_turn_at_the_office_of_unmade_lists

The first I heard of this book was when it went on an Australian list of the ‘Most Underrated Books for 2014’, which began this year thanks to the Small Press Network. This award, says an article on The Conversation, seems set out to reward ‘off-beat, experimental and innovative books’ – ones that haven’t been quite as well-reviewed as they should have, but nonetheless deserve a wider audience. Soon after I finished the book, actually while I was at litcrawl in Wellington last month, I saw that it had in fact won this prize.

This is the debut novel of Jane Rawson, a news website editor from Melbourne. A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists begins in the future, in Melbourne, after a non-specified climate crisis which has left our heroine Caddy lonely, poor and desperate. She has no job, but is a struggling writer, scraping together money by batting her eyelashes at soldiers and being pimped out by her friend Ray to rich developers.

Ray is a wheeler and dealer – a survivor. He is well-off through his various underground business ventures, inasmuch as this is possible in a dystopian world. The twist in the tale begins when a peacekeeper sells him some very special maps. The first time he uses them, he is swept into a pseudo-Dickensian world called ‘The Gap’, which appears to be a beaurocratic world where Unmade Lists require an office, and things that have passed through people’s minds are stashed – in Suspended Imaginums (a suitably grim set of worlds are accessible there).

Rawson has skill in pushing the action along while filling in what you need to know about the world – following to the letter rule no 1 – show, don’t tell. A Wrong Turn plays with voice and genre, slipping around ably, something like a Jasper Fforde novel. When Ray meets Simon and Sarah, Sarah becomes the first person, because they are Caddy’s creations – or so we are led to believe.

This book is enjoyable and light-hearted, while addressing the question of what you would do to save your future if you knew exactly how bad it was destined to be. For me, the only weakness in the writing was in dialogue, specifically the snappy dialogue between Caddy and Ray. I felt the persona of Caddy was a bit too crazed, but perhaps I had just imagined her differently to her creator.

I agree with the panel in saying that this book deserves a wider audience. It is distinguished by its quality of production and its realistic dystopia. Well worth a read for those who know Melbourne or San Francisco well – it was my fascination with San Francisco that attracted my attention to the book.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists
by Jane Rawson
Published by Transit Lounge Publishing
ISBN 9781921924439