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: Full Tilt, by Rebekah Tyler

Rebekah Tyler is a New Zealand cv_full_tiltauthor, living in Auckland with her two sons. This is her first novel – a memoir. She has written a wonderful laugh-out-loud story.

Rebekah’s mother dies when she is 4 years old. Her grandmother (Nanny), still grieving for her daughter, takes on the responsibility of a small child (Rebekah). Rebekah’s upbringing is anything but conventional, but the love between the two of them gets them through the many challenges that life throws their way. Rebekah’s Uncle Andrew moves to New Zealand and a few months later, persuades Nanny to move from the U.K. to the other side of the world, where Nanny works well into her seventies as an accounts clerk to support her only granddaughter. She would have to leave at 7 a.m each morning travel by ferry and bus to her office and often worked into the night after she returned each night.

Her Nanny teaches Rebekah to be independent and reliant on nobody but herself, but regardless of that she ends up with one failed marriage, the end result being a small son to bring up on her own. Further down the track, with another failed relationship and pregnant, Rebekah finds herself solely responsible not just for one child, but two. When Nanny dies, the world feels as though it has fallen off its axis for Rebekah. Her mentor and her rock were gone. She knew life had to change and the only person who could change it was herself. So change it she did – sold her house, quit her job, packed up their belongings, moving most of it into storage.

The story that follows is a joy to read. It’s not easy travelling with two sons, one two and the other ten years of age. They embark on an eight month long adventure taking them around the world, to Canada, England, France, Italy and Vietnam.

Having travelling with two daughters, but with a husband, I can relate to some of the stories of tantrums at inappropriate places with a two-year-old, sleeping in so many different beds in strange cities, eating strange food (well to a child it is!) and of course the many friendships made along the way. I understood Rebekah’s challenges along the way, and saw her strength in her ability to cope.

It’s then time for the adventure to stop and return home to New Zealand. Boarding a plane, settling the boys into their seats, putting the ear plugs in, turning up the iPod, makes the journey home a lot less stressful. Small incidents, that once upon a time would have been major, were now minor blips.

I hope Rebekah keeps writing – this is a wonderful light hearted account of travelling with her boys. Having a sense of humour in times of adversity is sometimes the only way to move forward. She is a remarkable woman with a great sense of humour.

Highly recommended

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Full Tilt
by Rebekah Tyler
Published by Full Tilt Press
ISBN 9780473247423

Book review: Hope Street, Jerusalem by Irris Makler

This book is in bookstores now.

The Jerusalem Irris Makler describes in her entertaining memoir Hope Street, Jerusalem sounds incredible. It’s got good weather, cafes and farmers markets galore, gorgeous sandstone architecture, and cultures and languages that have been percolating in a historical stew for thousands of years. It’s where Makler first fell in love, with her Israeli boyfriend Raphael; where Makler found her ratbag of a dog Mia; and where she did some of her most significant work in her job as an international news correspondent.

Jerusalem sounds fantastic. If it wasn’t for all those suicide bombings.

In this way Makler describes her years in Jerusalem in Hope Street, Jerusalem, her troubled love song to the ancient Biblical city. While a good deal of the book is given over to her romance with Raphael and her trials with Mia, it’s nevertheless the shadow of the Israeli-Palestine conflict that looms over all.

It’s jolting to read of Makler’s horror at Raphael taking the bus—a perfectly innocuous thing to do unless you live in a city where buses are frequently the target of terrorists’ bombs. In Jerusalem, the political and the personal live dangerously cheek by jowl, and one of this book’s great strengths is Makler’s ability to navigate between the two to find the personal story within the big political picture.

Again and again, Makler finds just the right human story to bring major political events close to home. To her credit, though, the string of tragedies she inevitably ends up describing never feel maudlin, sentimental or trivialised.

Makler also bares all about her bittersweet relationship with Raphael and her difficulties with Mia in this book. While her romantic life makes good reading (who doesn’t love a good romance?), the number of pages devoted to shenanigans with Mia was rather excessive. But my sense of doggy excess is surely coloured by the fact that I don’t own (and have never owned) a dog, and dog lovers may well adore this book.

Moreover, the drama of the book’s opening (during which Makler’s jaw is smashed by a stone thrown by a protester) is not adequately paid off by the ending, and the attempts at constructing a book-wide theme (namely, fate versus free will) come off sounding exactly that—constructed.

While these large-scale structural aspects fall flat, Makler’s skills at shaping the miniature are undeniable. Makler has a razor sharp eye for detail and for human (and doggy) behaviour, an ear well tuned to Jerusalem’s different speech patterns and accents (from Haim the fishmonger: “Yes, I know they’re different colours, this one is orange and that one is grey, but they are the same fish. What do you think—that I don’t know my fish?”), and a journalist’s well-honed ability to vividly and concisely tell a story well.

These skills bring Jerusalem, in all its dangerous, chaotic, multicultural madness, to life. Hope Street, Jerusalem is part armchair travel memoir, part diary-of-a-dog-owner, part pocket history of the Middle East, part romance, and all in all a perfect beach read.
Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Hope Street, Jerusalem
By Irris Makler
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780732294168