Book Review: Days are like Grass, by Sue Younger

cv_days-are-like-grassThis is a great read from a new New Zealand novelist, and is available now at bookshops nationwide.

Claire Bowerman has returned to New Zealand from London at the behest of her fiancée, Yossi. She is a pediatric surgeon at Starship hospital in Auckland, working with young patients suffering various ailments and traumas. In one such case, parents of a child with Wilm’s tumour refuse chemo and surgery, preferring alternative treatment. The resulting furore and media attention focuses unwelcome attention on Claire’s past, a past that she has spent a lifetime trying to forget. As she struggles against the encroaching memories, her relationship with Yossi begins to fray. Her fifteen year old daughter, Roimata, is also caught up in the turmoil as her own past begins to be revealed.

Claire’s reactions are very human and at times make for uncomfortable reading as she takes her anxiety and distress out on her family members, even as she attempts to keep them safe from the harm that she is sure threatens them all. It is hard to predict how things will be resolved and it is this very unpredictability which makes it hard to put the book down.

The characters are well drawn, believable and human. The Auckland landscape is equally detailed.

Sue Younger has written a novel that can take a well-deserved place on any bookshelf, and could easily be one that might be read again in a bid to take in detail missed on the first read.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Days are Like Grass
by Sue Younger
Published by Eunoia
ISBN 9780994104762

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