Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

Entrancing is the word for this book.  It took me a while to get into it and I even skim-read a few pages, but it soon had me hooked.  Set in Sweden during and after the second world war it deals with myth and mystery in a compelling way.  The characters are clearly depicted and demand the reader’s involvement.   The relationships are complex and real, especially those between the various mothers and their offspring.  Differences in race and class add another layer to the saga of boys growing to maturity.  A powerful novel, beautifully written and translated.

“A mother caring for her son
would do whatever must be done.”

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This novel moved me to tears at several points.  It starts with a White Russian family exiled to China after the Communist revolution, then follows the daughter to Shanghai, the Philippines, and Australia.  The story deals with love, betrayal, and displacement.  The blurb says it ‘depicts vividly the powerful lifelong bond between mothers and daughters’ but I felt it was wider than that.  The story with wonderfully detailed settings held me entranced, although the writing could have been improved.  It’s fiction, inspired by the journey made by the author’s Russian mother and godmother, and gives an excellent account of what happened to some refugees after the second world war.  Good reading for a rainy day.

“She overcomes a tragic plight
accompanied by gardenias white.”





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This novel would fascinate anyone with an interest in the history of Banks Peninsula.  A branch of my family lived in Akaroa in the late 19th century, I’ve spent many holidays there, and I’ve walked the Banks Peninsula Track.  With careful research of the historical setting the book tells the stories of two fictional early Pakeha settlers in Akaroa, the struggle between French and English for control over the area, and the interaction with takata whenua.  The willow tree of the title, sometimes thought to be the ancestor of the willows that now grow along the Avon/Otakaro, came from a slip from the willow beside Napoleon’s grave on St Helena.

The book opens unusually with a glossary of Maori words.  There was only one I wasn’t familiar with – Tinirau, guardian of sea creatures, son of Takaroa.

The descriptions of the area have the power of authenticity, especially when characters walk up the Rue Balguerie, past the stream.  I loved the description of the forest “where birds seemed not so much to twitter as to shout”.

My only quibble about the writing was that it sometimes seemed to me a little ponderous, almost as though the author couldn’t decide whether she was writing serious history or fiction.  The story is well worth reading and an excellent addition to local knowledge.

“”The separate settlements unfold
as Akaroa’s story’s told.”

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From the start of this memoir I was struck by the questions about identity and the effect of childhood trauma on memory.  These are areas I have personal experience of, so I was quickly enthralled by Sandy’s story.  I was not previously aware of Freud’s theory that our unpleasant experiences are forced out of the conscious mind deep into the subconscious, where they remain out of the reach of memory.  Once, when I felt I was strong enough to want to recover buried memories of my father’s death, I consulted a hypnotherapist who told me that if a memory was buried that deep it would be healthier for it to stay buried.   I was envious that some of Sandy’s childhood memories eventually resurfaced.

The book documents how Sandy spent decades trying to understand and recover his buried memories.  At the beginning he quotes Isaac Bashevis Singer who said: “When I was a little boy they called me a liar, but now that I’m grown up they call me a writer.”  Sandy’s adoptive parents lied to him, which caused all kinds of mental and emotional difficulties.  His early years were spent in Christchurch, and his evocation of this area in the 1950’s and 60’s offers interesting social history.  The reader follows his quest for family after being adopted as an infant, and shares the joy of finally meeting blood relations.

The book is clearly written, and would be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in identity and/or adoption.

“It’s vital we know who we are
the stories may be quite bizarre.”

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I haven’t read this book and I’m not sure whether I want to, but I’ve requested the library to buy it.  This week I heard the author and her mother interviewed on BBC Woman’s Hour and was moved by their story.  Milly Dowler disappeared in 2002, and her body was found six months later.  Errors were made by the police and the trial was psychological torture for the family.  One of the reasons the story spread so widely is because the ‘News of the World’ hacked Milly’s phone, leading to the Levinson inquiry, and the eventual demise of that publication.

Milly’s family went through absolute hell, and the trauma deeply affected their mental health.  This book, published last month, is courageously written by Milly’s sister Gemma, who was an immature 15 when Milly disappeared.  The writing process has been part of Gemma’s progress through post traumatic stress disorder.  It was good to hear that Gemma and her mother are finally able to face the future after an unimaginable experience.

“Such tragedy would break your heart
how could the mending even start?”

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I hadn’t heard of David Suzuki, before I read this book which provides insights into what it means to grow up in a culture that is not the country’s mainstream.  David was born in Canada of Japanese parents who were also Canadian-born, and his internment during World War II had a lasting effect.  Having trained as a scientist he went on to host radio and television programmes dealing with the environment, more recently global warming, and works passionately to protect the planet.

He compares the short-term perspective of employees and investors with the long-term perspective of environmentalists and First Nations people.  Much of what he writes about Canada and Australia mirrors the New Zealand experience.  Early settlers often survived only because of the knowledge and generosity of the indigenous people, and the latter have had to fight to retain control over a small part of the land, which is so integral to their culture.  He points out that indigenous knowledge built up over thousands of years of careful observation, experimentation, and insight is being lost all over the planet in just a few generations and can never be recovered.

I found it interesting to read how he set up a charity and fundraised for it (pre social media), but by page 250 I was beginning to feel as though I’d read it all before in reports of Values/Green issues and protests, and I skipped the next hundred pages.  The penultimate chapter about the culture of celebrity was interesting, as were his thoughts as he grows old.  He quotes his dying father, and says he has similar sentiments:  “I will return to nature where I came from.  I’ll be part of the fish, the trees, the birds – that’s my reincarnation.  I have had a rich and full life and have no regrets.  I will live on in your memories of me and through my grandchildren.”

“We must help nature live and thrive
if life on earth is to survive.”


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How could I not love a heroine who cares about apostrophes?  This is the story of a woman who is forced by unexpected circumstances to move to a remote area of Scotland where she teaches in a small country school.  Here she becomes immersed in the lives of her pupils, but still needs to sort out her own life.  There are some delightful scenes which made me laugh.  It’s the ideal novel for a drizzly holiday weekend.  I hadn’t come across this author before, but would willingly try her other novels.

“She fled to somewhere far away
because her life had gone astray.”


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