October 10, 2009

Take Me Away...to New Zealand (Fiction Edition)

Take Me Away Saturday

As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, Take Me Away is a way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there. (Note: ex. not necessarily books by a German or an Australian, but books set in Germany or Australia.)

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Here is a list of where we've been so far:
Peru Vietnam
Triple Threat
Inuit Culture Egypt
Australian Aborigines
Brazil India
Sierra Leone
Sioux Nation
Spain Japan
Haiti Kenya
Norway Taiwan
Turkey Chile

This week we are visiting the South Pacific country of New Zealand, in honor of NZ Book Month! Here is an easy to see map of New Zealand:
For more information on this country, click here. For more info on NZ Book Month, click here.

This week the focus is on Fiction books. Next week we dive into Kiwi Non-Fiction. Click on the titles of the books to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

The Bone People: A Novel by Keri Hulme
This is quite a first novel. The ending is revealed at its mysterious beginning; exotic line breaks and poetic punctuation put off at first but gradually become the best way to tell the tale; the Maori vocabulary is interwoven with contemporary British, Australian, and American idioms; and the New Zealand sea- and landscape vibrate under fresh perception. Hulme shifts narrative points of view to build a gripping account of violence, love, death, magic, and redemption. A silverhaired, mute, abused orphan, a laborer heavy with sustained loss, and a brilliant intro spective recluse discover, after enormous struggle through injury and illness, what it means to lose and then regain a family. No wonder The Bone People won the Pegasus Prize. Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
A poetic blend of reality and myth provides a riveting tale of adventure and passion. An ancient whale ridden by a mystical man rises from the sea, the rider throwing spears that blossom like seeds into gifts of nature. One last spear "-flew across a thousand years. When it hit the earth, it did not change but waited for another hundred and fifty years to pass until it was needed." It sprouts when Kahu, a girl child, is born to the eldest grandson of the chief of the Maori in Whangara, New Zealand. Koro Apirana is disgusted; he needs a male child to continue the line of descent in the tribe. The years that follow further harden his heart toward his great-granddaughter in spite of the bottomless love and respect she showers upon him. The child's great-grandmother, the irreverent Nanny Flowers, proves to be the strength of this family; she nurtures the girl whom she knows holds the key to the future. The complex mixture of archetypal characters and cultural troubles make this novel appropriate for mature readers. Overt and sometimes violent racism is encountered and the tragic and bloody death of hundreds of beached whales may disturb younger readers. This story, originally published in New Zealand in 1987, is the basis of the recently released film by the same name. It's a tale rich in intense drama and sociological and cultural information. A Maori glossary is appended. Publisher: Heinemann Educational Publishers

Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame
“Self-styled” writer Grace Cleave has writer’s block, and her anxiety is only augmented by her chronic aversion to leaving her home, to be “among people, even for five or ten minutes.” And so it is with trepidation that she accepts an invitation to spend a weekend away from London in the north of England. Once there, she feels more and more like a migratory bird, as the pull of her native New Zealand makes life away from it seem transitory. Grace longs to find her place in the world, but first she must learn to be comfortable in her own skin, feathers and all. From the author of the universally acclaimed An Angel at My Table comes an exquisitely written novel of exile and return, homesickness and belonging. Written in 1963 when Janet Frame was living in London, this is the first publication of a novel she considered too personal to be published while she was alive. Publisher: Counterpoint Recommended by: Maree of Just Add Books

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Diary (Hairy Maclary and Friends) by Lynley Dodd
This beleaguered vet's office may never fully recover from the chaos that ensues when Cassie the cockatoo plucks a hair from the hide of Hairy Maclary ("from Donaldson's Dairy"). This mischievous deed sets in motion a rambunctious, rhyming riot, as various ailing pets all decide to forgo their restraints and cavort in grand fashion. And just as some semblance of order is about to be restored, the culprit seems ready to strike again. This extended poem forms the basis for that relatively rare commodity, a book that tickles the funnybones of parents and children alike. With its amusing alliteration, fanciful names (Noodle the poodle; Barnacle Beasley, the sore and sorely vexed beagle; "The Poppadum kittens from Parkinson Place") and rapid-fire delivery, Dodd's nonsense verse follows quite nicely in the grand tradition of Messrs. Nash and Lear. The pictures are amiably animated and suitably silly, but watch those wonderful waggish words. Ages 5-7. Publisher: Puffin Books Recommended by: Maree of Just Add Books

Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy
Both Angela and Tycho had romantic notions: she about her unknown father, whom her mother had never married, and he for beautiful, sensual Angela. As Angela locates her father and plots a course to make him discover her, she learns that commonsense is a neat, symmetrical, misleading circle whereas truth is slightly elliptical and wobbly. As short, homely, brilliant Tycho contemplates the stars and planets to understand his family problems and hopeless love, Angela's confrontation with her father precipitates the emotional trauma of rejection. Through this turmoil, she recognizes her romantic feelings for Tycho, and the two have their first sexual encounter. Other stories of daughters searching for fathers deal with inner turmoil and search-for-self as here, but Mahy's is unique due to the distinct, unusual personalities; the New Zealand setting; the teenagers' fascination with the components of the universe and Mahy's use of analogies with fresh descriptions conveying sharp, vivid images. This story is brightly lit with perceptions and the universal inscrutability of finding one's place. The occult shivers in previous Mahy books don't occur here, but the atmosphere is electrically charged with the uncommon tone, eccentric characters and meshing of circumstances with feelings that should both appeal to and challenge YA readers and leave them pondering the center of their universe. Grades 9 and up. Publisher: Simon Pulse Recommended by: Maree of Just Add Books

Sisterchicks Down Under by Robin Jones Gunn
Kathleen joins her husband for a three-month trip to New Zealand when he’s hired by a film studio in Wellington. Leaving behind all that is familiar in her comfortable corner in Southern California, she realizes that the past twenty years have been so tightly woven into the life of her only daughter that she’s not sure who she is on her own or with her husband. In her isolation, Kathleen begins to contemplate reinventing herself, but before her crazy schemes take flight, she meets Jill at the Chocolate Fish cafĂ©. Even though the two women are very different at first glance, they find they share a common Sisterchick heart and instantly forge a friendship that takes them on a journey where both Kathleen and Jill find that God has returned to them the truest part of themselves that was set aside so many years ago. Publisher: Multnomah Publishers

Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance by Lloyd Jones
Jones crafts a vivid tale of love and the redemption of dance. Argentinean piano tuner Paul Schmidt arrives in New Zealand near the end of WWI. He meets Louise Cunningham, who hides him when ruffians decide to kill Schmidt because his name sounds German. In their makeshift camp, Schmidt teaches Louise the tango. After Paul returns to Buenos Aires, he receives a letter from Louise, who admits she fell in love during their first dance. The pair keep their love alive through letters, even when they are oceans apart and eventually marry other people. The letters later provide clues for Paul's granddaughter, Rosa, who moves to New Zealand and is curious about Paul's mysterious past. Lionel, a university student and dishwasher in Rosa's restaurant, traces Paul and Louise's story, seeing parallels to his own ill-fated love for the older (and married) Rosa. Just as Paul taught Louise, Rosa teaches Lionel how to tango. With his elegant language, Jones moves gracefully between the two stories and time periods, capturing the sensuous interplay between partners in dance and in life. Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback

A Dangerous Vine by Barbara Ewing
Margaret Rose Bennett, like her elder sister, Elizabeth, was named after the two English princesses. But Elizabeth is dead, and Margaret Rose still living, searching and reaching out for life and its meaning. And against the frankly odd, strained and curiously English household she inhabits in a New Zealand city, it is hard to make out the truth. So Margaret abandons what her parents think is right: learning English history, the French language, listening to comedy shows on the World Service and returning home on the 9.30 tram and maps out a course of her own. She studies Maori at University, makes friends with the wayward Emily (daughter of the soon to be Prime Minister of New Zealand) and shy, independent Prudence. As a trio they study hard for their degrees, work by day at the local Government offices and by night sing, drink and laugh with the local Maori people - and fall in love. A new world, an enchanting world, and one with an underbelly of struggle, colour, passion and even violence. Far removed from the closed, ordered life of Margaret Rose's family, but perhaps not so detached from their own, secret history...Here is an extraordinary, poetic novel of a society trapped in a time of its own, undercut by a people that live and breathe with a vigour that bubbles and burst through the silent surface. Publisher: Virago Press Ltd.

Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff
In a Maori ghetto of urban New Zealand, Jake and Beth Heke battle entrenched poverty, racism and other ills that overwhelm their traditional Maori culture. With a gritty, realistic eye, Duff portrays Jake and Beth, who because of alcoholism, abuse and poverty can provide little protection against the gangs, drugs and violence that menace their children. Most vulnerable is Grace who dreams of escape into the Pakeha (white) world and whose brutal rape triggers the downward spiral of events. Duff's choppy sentences, repeated phrasing and use of Maori slang may require some adjustment for American readers, but ultimately his staccato prose style is ideally suited to a world of not-so-quiet desperation. Regardless of one's position on the controversy, the half Pakeha /half Maori Duff provides a compelling and insightful glimpse into the overwhelming struggles faced by the disenfranchised poor of any urban society--including America's own inner cities. Publisher: Vintage

Dare Truth or Promise by Paula Boock
In William Taylor's novel The Blue Lawn (reviewed 5/99), two gay teens survive a car crash and, giddy with relief, find themselves holding hands for the first time. In Dare Truth or Promise, another New Zealander author also recasts that old cliche, of gay teen novels, changing a plot element of destruction into one of restoration: the car wreck near the end of Paula Boock's novel serves to jumpstart the healing of two girls' broken hearts. From the beginning, Willa and Louie's relationship is difficult-they have to sneak around and lie, and when Louie's mother catches them in bed together, the girls fight and split up. But their story has its moments of bliss, too, and-best of all-a happy ending. A limited omniscient point of view follows each girl in alternating chapters, so readers are equally acquainted with both characters and their situations. This is Louie's first love; she's amazed but not alarmed that she's fallen for a girl. Willa's been in love once before, but the relationship was a disaster. Willa's single-parent mom may not understand her daughter, but she loves and accepts her wholeheartedly; Louie, however, finds herself lying to her parents and wondering how to reconcile her religion and her love for Willa. As in Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind, the descriptions of the girls' attraction and longings are authentically rendered. Lesbian readers will see themselves, and straight readers will see what gay teens already know-that the feelings of young love are the same for everyone. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Colour by Rose Tremain
Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand, along with Joseph's mother Lilian, in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch where they settle threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in a creek bed, he hides the discovery from both his wife and mother, and becomes obsessed with the riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new goldfields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of the "colour," rush to their destinies and doom. Publisher: Picador USA

Potiki by Patricia Grace
Winner of the 1987 New Zealand Fiction Award, this is a work of spellbinding power that weaves myths of older times into the political realities of today. Set amid fear and confusion, Patricia Grace’s novel about a coastal community faced with mortal danger is a masterpiece of Maori fiction; “as delicate as a Japanese brushwork, yet as poignant and throat-aching as the loss of a loved one.” Publisher: The University of Hawaii Press

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many others out there. Do you want to share fiction recommendations that feature New Zealand? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for another trip in books! Here is what is coming up next:

October 17: The country of New Zealand (Nonfiction Edition) to continue NZ Book Month
October 24: The country of Russia (Fiction Edition)
October 31: The country of Russia (Nonfiction Edition)

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

Cultures Visited:
Sioux Culture
Australian Aborigines
Inuit Culture


  1. Oh, great post! I'm glad I could help :D

  2. Awesome! And just in time for New Zealand month :D

  3. I never realised that Hairy McClary was from New Zealand. I had always thought the author was English. Thanks for correcting me.

  4. Wow, what a nice variety of books this week. Here at the end of the World is going right on my list.
    have a great week.

  5. The Bone People is on my immediate TBR list and I am very excited about reading it as have only heard great things.

    Katherine Mansfield's stories (the ones set there) are wonderfully evocative of provincial NZ and are also beautifully succinct and perfect pieces of art.

  6. Great post. I haven't read much New Zealand lit but this looks like a terrific list. I enjoyed the Janet Frame book as well and recently got a collection of her short stories from Counterpoint, which I'm looking forward to.

  7. I find NZ to be beautiful, but I've never found a book from NZ that I've raved about. Odd.

  8. I'm going to have to come back and visit more of these posts, I don't know how I managed to miss them up till now. I've only heard of a few of these New Zealand books.

  9. Wow, I honestly had no idea there were so many books with a setting in New Zealand. Or that there was a New Zealand reading month!

  10. I don't think I ever read a book about New Zealand...
    Good post.

  11. Enjoyed this post very much! I am a huge fan of Clare Mallory who wrote school stories set in New Zealand, some of which have been brought back into print by Girls Gone By Press.


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