What We're Reading

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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.

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Neil

The Way of the World, by Nicolas Bouvier (Eland 2007, first published in 1963)

The Way of the World tells the story of two friends, the author and artist Thierry Vernet, drive in a Fiat Topolino from Geneva to the Khyber Pass in the 1950s. They had little money, and stopped off in towns along the way to teach, sell paintings, and play music to earn enough to continue. It's an epic journey, in the vein of Patrick Leigh Fermor, with vivid descriptions and illustrations of local people, landscapes and extreme weather, both hot and cold.

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Neil

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene (Vintage 2019, first published 1951)

This is such a sad novel, a real classic, loosely based on an affair Graham Greene had in real life. The narrator is Maurice Bendrix, a rational but flawed and jealous man, a moderately successful novelist, who meets and starts an affair with a married woman, Sarah, during the Second World War. The main events in the novel are described 6 or so years later, when the affair has ended with significant impacts on both parties, and the novel also describes other tragic events that befall the characters.