Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
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I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104

Book Reviews: Maori Carving: The Art of Recording Maori History, and Maori Weaving: The Art of Creating Maori Textiles

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_maori_carving

These slim volumes are two of a series of four, produced by Huia Press, in conjunction with the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. While they really are small (54 and 44 pages respectively) they are packed with information.

Each has the same structure. The origins of the arts are explored – including the legends and traditional stories. There is a description of the materials used, the tools and techniques, the uses both traditional and contemporary, and some of the notable practitioners of the arts.

cv_maori_weavingThe weaving book centres on flax. Maori soon discovered the properties of harakeke “the wonder fibre”, and have used it to create a huge range of useful and decorative objects, including baskets, mats, housing materials, clothing, ropes, and fishing nets. The construction of these articles records histories and stories, and acts as a cultural record.
The book details the steps in selecting, preparing and weaving flax, and respecting the flax plant. The intricate patterns are described, and a wide range of finished products are described. As well as flax, some less traditional materials are shown in contemporary use, including plastic, wire, ribbon and paper. There’s plenty of detail here, although the book is not an instruction manual or how-to guide.

The carving book follows a similar outline, with an emphasis on the wide variety of carved objects produced using the same techniques. Of the uses of carving, most attention is given to carved houses. A significant part of the book deals with how to read a carving – seeing and interpreting details which reveal the history being recorded.

Throughout both books, Maori traditional stories and beliefs are incorporated, giving a broad picture of the place of carving and weaving in Maori culture. For me, a highlight of both books is the inclusion of the stories of practitioners of the arts, and something of the history and development of the art.

The text of each book is clear, concise and easy to read. Photographs make up a large part of each book. These photographs are magnificent! The production values throughout are high. Each book contains a glossary, a bibliography and a list of on-line resources.

Although these are not large books, they manage to include a great deal of information. Perhaps with the others in the series (Marae: The Heart of Maori Culture and Geothermal Treasures, Maori Living with Heat and Steam) they would make a fine introduction to Maori culture for many people who have seen museums, and perhaps visited Rotorua, but want some firm guidance and proper understanding about what they have seen.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Maori Carving: The Art of Recording Maori History
by Huia Publishers and The NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute
ISBN 9781775501916

Maori Weaving: The Art of Creating Maori Textiles
Huia Publishers and The NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute
ISBN 9781775501923

Book Review: Bird Murder, by Stefanie Lash

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Bird Murder is available now, at selected bookstores.

Birds of a feather flock together, or so they say.
And Mākaro Press bunches three first-class poets in its Hoopla Series. Stefanie Lash, an archivist from Wellington, is the fledgling of this group, with Bird Murder her first collection.

Lash’s collection evades pigeonholes. Perhaps it is best pegged as a poetic thriller (indeed, the cover does cast it as ‘crime’). But Lash resists conformity to any one mode. Bird Murder flitters between legalese and the natural sciences, between steampunk and colonial New Zealand history. Norse and Greek references couple with local geography.

The work is a hodge-podge of elements, but by no means a mess. Imagery is integrated. The ‘not-quite-fictional’ setting of Tusk and its colourful inhabitants are vivid and convincing. Yet the reader is torn between feelings of repulsion and delight. There is something both exquisite and abhorrent about this other-world. The ‘pretty bird’ becomes ‘grotesque’ in death, and there is something oddly artful about the ‘creamy intestines’, the ‘teacup of blood’.

Bird Murder is in turns haunting and hilarious. It is verse as storytelling. However, this is no linear tale. Rather, each verse acts as a clue to the overarching narrative. Characters are sketchily rendered. Birds, birdmen and human forms move in and out of view. There is an element of theatre in the movements of characters − the maid stands at ‘stage right’, people adopt the ‘contrapposto pose’.

This is theatre at the ‘World’s End’. One senses the credits have fallen, and Tusk is a world in its death-throws. The slaying of the huia bird, an almost magical entity, is symptomatic of such breakdown. And in the dystopian dim it seems ‘no good can come of seeing faces fully after dark’. The huia, once taxidermied, is purged of its magic − ‘the actual animal is released’.

In Bird Murder, Lash has gifted us fairy-tale and caution. A bird in the hand is worth nothing if it is dead. ‘No man should revel in extinction’. But Lash’s tone is not didactic. Her style is more ‘show’ than ‘tell’. Lash invites us into a world rich with imagery – from the anatomical to the culinary.

This is poetry with guts.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Bird Murder
by Stefanie Lash
Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780473276492