The Literature of New Zealand: Donut Club. III

Aoteoroa: The Land of the Long White Cloud. My country, my culture, my home, and the theme of Sunday night’s Donut Club.

I have a difficult relationship with New Zealand literature. I love supporting New Zealand talent and culture and believe we have a phenomenal amount of talent for our small size, but when I read, I want to escape and experience new worlds. I ended up staring at my shelves and moping for a week trying to decide what to take to book club. There was also the danger of showing up with the same book as someone else, because the selection is limited.

B begun with two books (per usual), the first was Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider. The interesting things about this novel is that everyone knows the film, but the book is so different from it. It follows Kahu, a young girl born into the Whangara Iwi. She is the firstborn grandchild of the chief, and as a girl, is a continual disappointment to her Grandfather.

Mr Pip was B’s second book, in adorable flip-form. It is the story of an island in the Pacific who’s community (at war) only has Dickens’ Great Expectations to read, so they end up reading it over, and over again.

The first time N read her chosen book was in primary school. Ever since she has trawled second hand bookstores trying to find it. A few years ago it finally surfaced – Margaret Mahy’s The Pirate’s Mixed-up Voyage, a delicious book that follows the lives of pirates as the find many adventures, and as adventures find them.

In her (cult-like) obsession with cults, T chose Fleur Beale’s I am not Esther, a harrowing story based on Gloriavale. Of course, we all started talking about the cult and how intriguing it is. At first it looks perfect, you live with all your friends and family, and you don’t have to worry about money… but there is something sinister about it. With it’s sketchy leader and worldviews.

The first book I had was The Collected Poems of James K. Baxter. I first got into Baxter’s poems because I became so curious about his life: born to a pacifist father and a Cambridge educated mother (bound to be an interesting kid, right?), Baxter attended Otago University, where published his first poems. He then trained as a teacher, left the profession, became a post-master, worked in a sugar-refinery, married an Anglican, converted to Catholicism, divorced the Anglican, traveled through India, reconciled with the Anglican, began a commune in Jerusalem, changed his name to Hemi, moved to Grafton, opened a house for the drug addicted, and died of a heart attack at the age of 46. The transformation he went through, both physically and spiritually was astounding.

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The second book I had was Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, a book that made me want to force-read everyone around me. It is such a perfect insight into the teenage psyche: the drama, The mystery, the curiosity, the jealousy, the creativity, and ultimately, the relationships.

Bernard Beckett’s Genesis was R’s book of choice. One of the only novels he had actually enjoyed studying in high-school. The novel explores the relationship between humankind and artificial intelligence, prompting the reader to ask themselves: what makes something ‘real’ and what does it mean to be human? In our own lives today we are starting to ask these questions and soon will have to find an answer.

H had Hokitika Town by Charlotte Randall, a book that follows a young boy, Halfie, who collects coins. But, he doesn’t quite understand what coins are: buying and beer, drinking it, and then asking for his coins back. As a child, like many children in literature, Halfie is invisible to the adults around him. Befriending whores, miners, and drunks alike, Halfie observes the world, learning things he probably shouldn’t, and failing to fully understand the lives of others.

Artwork by Marian Maguire.

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