What We're Reading

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Neil

We Will Not Cease, by Archibald Baxter (Otago 2021, first published 1939)

This shattering memoir has become a classic, and is still as relevant as it ever was. Archibald Baxter (J.K Baxter's father) was a conscientious objector during the First World War, and was relentlessly and brutally treated by the New Zealand authorities. He was punished beyond the limits of his physical and mental endurance, and was told that it wasn't his service they wanted, it was his submission. Baxter remained determined not to submit, and didn't, but he was almost destroyed in the process.

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Neil

Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, edited by Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O'Brien and Lara Strongman (2001, VUP, City Gallery Wellington, Parihaka Pā Trustees)

This is a groundbreaking book which explores the impact and legacy of the 1881 invasion of Parihaka in Taranaki by the Crown. It also serves as the catalogue for the exhibition of the same name which was held at the City Gallery in Wellington which ran from August 2000 until January 2001. The superb publication features many artworks by Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Tony Fomison and others, poetry and waiata, essays, and archival and contemporary photography.

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Neil

The Dark Is Light Enough: Ralph Hotere, by Vincent O'Sullivan (Penguin 2020)

This is a superb biographical portrait of a unique figure in New Zealand art, and the unique way in which he approached life and his art practice. O'Sullivan, who knew Hotere and his whanau well, has a brilliant way of describing the art, the man himself, and the various characters in his orbit. It's a generous portrayal of an extraordinarily single-minded artist, his appreciation of friends and collaborators, food and wine, and art.

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Neil

At Night All Blood Is Black, by David Diop (Pushkin 2020)

This powerful, hypnotic novel is set in the trenches during WW1, and is a stream of consciousness meditation by Alfa, a Senegalese soldier fighting for France against the Germans. As the novel opens, Alfa's good friend Mademba is killed, and Alfa devotes himself to vengeance. It's an unrelentingly violent and brutal novel, which comments on race and masculinity, war, colonialism, and madness, but is written in a mythical, poetic style, and is bleak and sad. It has won a number of literary awards, most notably the 2021 International Booker Prize.

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Neil

'Exterminate All The Brutes', by Sven Lindqvist (Granta 1997)

Sven Lindqvist, who died in 2019, was one of Sweden's most celebrated writers, mostly in non fiction, reportage and travel. This is perhaps his best known book in English, and is a history of European racism in the 19th Century. It examines European colonial actions in Africa and South and Central America, the military developments that allowed for it, and the philosophical and political justifications for the brutality that Joseph Conrad wrote about in Heart of Darkness.

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Neil

The Forgotten Coast, by Richard Shaw (Massey November 2021)

This third book in Massey's charming small memoir series is as surprising and unique as the first two. Like the others, it's at heart a family story, with secrets to be revealed. Shaw, now a professor, grew up not knowing that his family's privileged position came from ancestors farming land in Taranaki that had been confiscated from mana whenua and sold to his great grandfather, who was a member of the Armed Constabulary at the invasion of Parihaka in 1881.