What We're Reading

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Neil

The Promise, by Damon Galgut (Chatto 2021)

This sensational novel deservedly won this year's Booker Prize. It is an incredibly powerful, intelligent, moving and resonant novel, set in South Africa over a 40 year period, starting just before apartheid ended. It follows a family of 3 children, dropping in on them roughly every 10 years on the occasion of a family funeral. The title refers to a promise made at the beginning of the book, by the matriarch just before her death, to reward the family's black housekeeper by giving her a house on their farm.

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Neil

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber 2021)

Another masterpiece from this Booker (1989) and Nobel (2017) Prizewinning author, Klara and the Sun is thematically similar to his Never Let Me Go (2005), in that they are both set in the near future, in a similar but not quite familiar world. Klara is an AF, an android-like companion for a teenage girl, and she is the narrator of the novel. This allows for an oblique, naive view of humanity which Klara struggles to understand, but as the novel progresses, the reader comes to a greater understanding of what is going on in the world than she does.

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Neil

Burntcoat, by Sarah Hall (Faber January 2022)

Sarah Hall has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I would expect this searingly intense novel to make the 2022 shortlist. With extraordinarily sensuous prose, Sarah Hall chronicles the unfolding relationship between two lovers during a pandemic, which is sweeping through Britain with devastating effect. It's by turns erotic, disturbing, beautiful, and heartachingly sad. It's full on, strange, and a triumph of economic storytelling and finely honed prose. Stunning and shocking.

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Neil

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee (Penguin 2014, first published 1969)

This classic piece of travel writing/memoir is the middle part of a trilogy of autobiographical writing that made Laurie Lee's career. The first part, Cider With Rosie (1959) depicts his idyllic childhood in Gloucestershire, and the final part A Moment of War (1991) is about his experiences in 1937 fighting for the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. This part is about his first visit to Spain in 1935. He spends a year walking across Spain from Vigo in the north west, playing a violin to make enough money to live on. It's an enchanting read, beautifully evoked, funny and moving.

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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.