Book Review: New Hokkaido, by James McNaughton

cv_new_hokkaidoAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

An unusual and original concept, this short novel offers a New Zealand different from our own, answering the question: what if Japan claimed us (New Zealand) during World War 2? The answer: a country in which Pakeha “Kiwis” are second-class citizens and the Japanese culture has permeated the country, suffocating its British heritage.

This is a bleakly humorous book designed to inspire slight feelings of discomfort. It is darkly satirical, the characters cast in a manner stereotypical with their racial heritage. From the gumbooted, swandri-wearing supporters of Free New Zealand to the proper and polite Japanese (who remain proper and polite until crossed, and then become coldly vicious). The characters that break these over-exaggerated typecasts are our main characters: Hitomi, Chris’s student and the “love interest” of the story, and Chris himself, to a point. Chris is the sort of slightly bumbling, naive fellow who allows himself to get swept up in events beyond his capabilities. Added into the plot is a rather dramatic and violent mutiny.

Whilst an intriguing and compelling read, at times I did feel a little uncomfortable, especially regarding the relationship between Hitomi and Chris. Their first encounter on the ferry felt unsettlingly sudden and distinctly crude. Whilst I could identify with Chris’s plight, I never really empathised with him much as a character. Overall, an interesting take on what New Zealand could have been, had our history taken a different turn.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

New Hokkaido
by James McNaughton
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739766