Book Review: The Expatriates, by Martin Edmond

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_expatriates.jpgReading The Expatriates reminded me of my high school years and how I loved history because I had a teacher who made the subject come alive. Martin Edmond has that same talent and I found myself getting caught up in the stories he tells of four New Zealanders who achieved fame in Europe.

Some of the material Edmond based his book on came from the late James McNeish.

Although this book is closer to a textbook than anything else, Edmond writes well, apart from an annoying habit of referring alternately to people by their first and last names, which can be confusing.

The four profiled are Harold Williams, journalist and linguist; Ronald Syme, spy, libertarian, and historian of ancient Rome; John Platts-Mills, radical lawyer (he once defended notorious gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray) and political activist; and Joseph Burney Trapp, librarian, scholar and protector of culture.

The most interesting to me – and possibly Edmond too, as he devotes the largest section of the book to him – was Harold Williams.

The son of a Methodist preacher, Williams became fascinated by foreign languages and mastered a large number. After moving overseas he worked as a correspondent for various publications and reported on conflicts and politics, moving in exalted circles due to his incredible command of languages.

Williams lived and worked in Russia during the turbulent years of Lenin, Trotsky and Rasputin. He married a Russian woman, Ariadna Tyrkova, and devoted much of his life to researching and recording Russia’s history.

Each man has a fascinating life story, and in the case of Platts-Mills, an equally fascinating family. His mother was one of the few female registered doctors in New Zealand in the early 1900s. I’m hoping Edmond may turn his attention to writing a similar book about New Zealand women who achieved fame overseas last century.

This book is a great tribute to four men who went on to make a success of things overseas, and a great reminder that New Zealand has always produced brilliant and revolutionary people.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Expatriates
by Martin Edmond
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781988533179


Extraordinary Anywhere, Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey

cv_extraordinary_anywhereAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

We all have our own idea of the meaning of ‘Place’, whether it is our house, or home town – or even a page in a book, or seat in the theatre. Victoria University Press has published this collection of seventeen essays, all of which offer glimpses into where we are now in New Zealand in the 21st Century.

This collection of personal essays, a first of its kind, re-imagines the idea of place for an emerging generation of readers and writers.

It was while the editors were on a road trip, and stopped for a break at Paekakariki that the idea for the book began. As the book states, “The writers are interested in the obsession, fascination, wonder and often intense unease experienced in relation to particular spots in this country. They are interested in how lives are actually lived in very specific places and how these lives – and places – have changed over time.”

The collection is divided into three parts. The first, ‘Any Place might be extraordinary if only we knew it’, focuses on a single location. In the second section, ‘You take place with you as you go on’, we read stories of mobility and the reasons why people migrate to different areas in the country. And the third section, ‘The meshing of thought and world’, wrestles with how global issues and modern technology influence place.

“In the final essay Tim Corballis seeks to negotiate how we might live in the complexity of new places, suggesting that we need to hold on to at least two perspectives: a local individual view…. ,: but also a larger perspective, one that might include an image of the whole Earth, for example, and imaging of place adequate to confront climate change.”

As well as editors Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey, contributors include Tony Ballantyne, Martin Edmond, Tina Makereti, Giovanni Tiso, Ian Wedde, Ashleigh Young, and more.

Jo Bailey and Anna Brown have designed an intriguing dust cover for this paperback book which deserves to be studied as it adds a visual dimension to the publication.

Extraordinary Anywhere needs to be devoured slowly as the essays are all vastly different in style and content, reflecting the diversity of our place, Aotearoa-New Zealand and the World. There is something in this book for everyone, and I particularly enjoyed the essays about places I was familiar.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Extraordinary Anywhere- Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand
Edited by Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560707

Book Review: The Dreaming Land, by Martin Edmond

cv_the_dreaming_land_bigAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

I thoroughly enjoyed Martin Edmond’s wonderfully descriptive memoir. With a style and pacing that draws the reader in and envelops them in a New Zealand that had a type of insularity all of its own, Edmonds telling of his early years is a treat and while not all wine and roses, it is a life that would resonate with many.

The son of teachers, Edmond knew the vagaries of moving town, shifting house and losing people in a time when we were ruled by the motherland, where life could be harsh and every town was governed by a set of unwritten expectations, where position mattered and narrow-mindedness could make life hell. The awareness that there were undercurrents of discord in his home and his difficult relationship with his mother kept Edmond precariously balanced, as he struggled through those rights-of-passage experiences and strived to find out exactly who he was. The great thing is there is not a jot of whinging, it is what is and we get on with it.

Edmond is without doubt an extremely talented writer, and he uses a delightful array of language to tell his tale, his humour even as a youngster shines through…a put-together bike is called an anthology of a bike. In many ways the book encapsulates the best of growing up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in New Zealand. It shines a light on a time now past, but fondly remembered by so many of us.

This book would make an excellent gift, especially for someone who grew up in the book’s timeframe. It’s easy to read, very memory-inducing but never trite. A great read.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Dreaming Land
by Martin Edmond
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780908321490

Book Review: Barefoot Years, by Martin Edmond

Available in bookstores nationwide.

I requested Barefoot Years to review immediately after receiving an email from Bridgetcv_barefoot_years Williams Books about events featuring the author, Martin Edmond. I asked for the book at 12.27pm, and received it as an e-book to read on my iPad at 12.56pm. There is surely a small irony in reading this memoir of simple childhood years on a modern technology so commonly used by children today.

Martin Edmond wants to take you along with him through his barefoot years. He remembers, in this book, his childhood: the homes, the environment. This book intertwines local history with personal, in a wonderful flowing narrative.

“The next place we lived is so replete in recall that I do not quite know where to begin to try to describe it; for me it is the original Memory House and the template for all other places I have subsequently known. Let me take you there.”

He’ll bring you in by reminding you that, “Now – by which I mean then, in the 1950s –”. His detailed and descriptive writing connects directly to your imagination,  using his words to guide you on a journey with him to his Memory House.

Edmond’s early years are filled with wonder and excitement around the house. The garden features as the setting for the first loss of innocence: “The garden is also where my father takes me when he has something of moment to say.” He learns the truth about Father Christmas in said garden (something I believe I learned from a TV show) and describes the feeling – “I am not so much disappointed as elated at my entry into a world of adult complicity in the nourishing of childhood illusion.”

As he remembers the women between the two that really caught his eye, Edmonds poignantly pens, “We are, boys and girls both, in some indefinable but profound manner, united; diverse and probably incompatible, we are nevertheless one.”

Every sentence, every page in this book will remind you of your own childhood, no matter where you grew up yourself. The way Edmond pieces together this time in his life strikes a chord with your own early years. My own first experience with wine completely mimics his – “my first taste of wine … a delicious, fragrant white – though it is in fact a pale-yellow colour – made from, of all things, feijoas.”

Barefoot Years is a fragment of Martin Edmond’s full-length memoir, which is to be published by BWB in 2015. This is to be the full story of his childhood years in the Central Plateau. This book serves as a stunning start to what is sure to be a wonderful account of Edmond’s life.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

Barefoot Years
by Martin Edmond
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781927277676

Book Review: Beyond the Ohlala Mountains / Poems 1968-2002, by Alan Brunton

Available in bookstores now. 

On the cover of Beyond the Ohlala Mountains, a paper mask purses a pair of glossy red cv_beyond_the_ohlala_mountainslips. The mask looks determined, and those lips look ready to scold you. The illustrations list tells me the mask was made by Sally Rodwell, Alan Brunton’s partner with whom he established the experimental theatre group Red Mole. Brunton also worked as a tutor, literary critic, community arts worker, was the founding editor of Freed, and co-edited the tabloid-format arts magazine Spleen. In 1998, Brunton was the University of Canterbury’s Writer in Residence, and the thick spine of Beyond the Ohlala Mountains attests to his prolific output as a poet. Maybe the mask on the cover suggests Brunton’s theatricality – as the editors state, “For Alan Brunton poetry was inextricable from performance” – but also the many masks he wore as an artist.

This exquisite selected works is split into five sections which move chronologically from 1968 to 2002. They represent twelve published collections as well as what the editor’s discovered in Brunton’s papers, letters, and notebooks. Each section opens with a photograph of a Red Mole mask or puppet, and they are comical, strange, and confronting: a signal for what is ahead.

My favourite poems of the selected works come from the second section, ‘1970—1973 On The Road’, a time when Brunton journeyed through Australia to Calcutta, and then crossed the Nepalese border and spent two months in Kathmandu (although many poems from this period were lost when Brunton’s bag was stolen). Brunton then ended up in London (via India and Afghanistan) where he lived for a time with poet Ian Wedde. The introduction is full of these details that give the reader insight into the connections and friendships that fuelled New Zealand poetry during these years.

It is impossible to summarise four decades of work in a short review, but Brunton’s poems are energetic and inquisitive; they are experimental and ring with voice; they are of their time, the poems from the late 60s and 70s eschewing capitalisation and liberally using the ampersand; they have what the editors call “linguistic bravura”. This makes it sound like all of his poems are ripping with energy, but some such as ‘In My Wake & Silent Time’ (from ‘1970—1973 On The Road’) are quieter as the poet works in a place that is “between”:

most this day i’ve crawled amongst
the simple vowels of nothingness
trying to fix it again
the direction
the prevailing wind in that town
between two seas
where a birdsong & knowing child
stammered taking wot of things

highwater broke at my window
gunning for the little tern
in the west & secret air,
half a distance away blackbirds
fell from the footbridge
where the black widow spun

bird’s-foot makes me forget
the pipefish
& the trade wind drift
yet i have not wandered aimlessly

all creatures live under the sun
on backshore reaches
but for the prodigal who sings

There is something of sadness in these pages with Brunton’s sudden death from a heart attack in Amsterdam in 2002, and then his partner Rodwell’s suicide four years later. The editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond have done a huge amount of work to find and select these poems, and to contextualise them in the generous introduction, which also serves as a biography for Burton. It’s a homage to the poet, and with this selection the editors have certainly achieved what they wished, which is for the poems to be “a resource for those who wish to continue the work: encoding strangeness in the quotidian, tracking the esoteric to and from its home in the words we all use, discovering a depthless meaning in the ordinary music of our lives.”

Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett

Beyond the Ohlala Mountains / Poems 1968-2002
by Alan Brunton
Edited by Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond
Titus Books, 2014
ISBN 9781877441479
$38 RRP, 316pp, paperback