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Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature
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Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Collection

Debbie Lancaster-Gordon, Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature —

Latest additions reviewed by the office of the City of Literature

The Back of the Painting: Secrets and Stories from Art ConservationLinda Waters, Sarah Hillary and Jenny Sherman
A wonderful book dedicated to a unique science, clues and information that can be researched and determined by expert eyes viewing the back of paintings. This gorgeous book is a lovely size and is beautifully produced by Te Papa Press. Lavishly illustrated, it explores the details and construction of 33 works dating from the 14th century to the present day, including paintings by Monet, Pissarro, McCahon, Hodgkins, Hotere, Fomison and more.

Dunedin’s own Jenny Sherman shows her expertise and experience in the field of art conservation and restoration enlightening readers with the visual and written clues found on the backs of the oldest works in the book, dating as far back as c.1380. Not only does this provide fascinating insights into the making of art and materials used including paint mixes and applications, throughout history, it also shines a light on a small sampling of the vast collection of significant artworks held by Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

The back of the book includes photographs of some of the tools and apparatus these ladies use to ply their trade giving visual clues showing the precise and careful work that is part of this mysterious science. Conservation is a close community of professionals who protect and conserve our taonga. When we visit an exhibition and stand before a painting that demands our attention, we think little about the hours of dedicated work behind closed doors that is carried to ensure the work to look it’s best. Well done ladies, a great and informative read.

The Wilder Years Selected Poems. David Eggleton
David Eggleton, Poet Laureate of Aotearoa 2019-21, has published nine poetry collections and this book showcases the poet’s own selection from 35 years of published work, together with a handful of new poems. Divided into 10 sections (the last containing previously unpublished works including a response to the Christchurch Mosque terror attack) spanning 1986 to the present, this beautiful book published by Otago University Press has a wonderful cover image Inner Truth 2006-09 by Nigel Brown. Depicting a kiwi bloke with lots of thoughts running through his mind, this is an apt cover for such an anthology the poet’s unique and consistent style, never disappoints.

Cover image: Inner Truth 2006-09 by Nigel Brown — Image by: cover art by Nigel Brown

There is dark humour here. Quirky, manic, crying out to be read aloud by the poet himself, his poems chronicle many ordinary occurrences and will strike a chord with many readers. ‘Jamie Oliver’s TV Dinner’ is ‘lovely-jubbly.’

A local legend David Eggleton received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2016. David has a reputation as an electric performer and is one of Aotearoa’s original oracular poets. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride!

Life as a Novel: A Biography of Maurice Shadbolt Vol. One 1932-1973 and Vol. Two 1973-2004. Philip Temple
Maurice Shadbolt will be known as a major New Zealand writer whose many awards, fellowships and popularity included Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1963. Shadbolt was capped Honorary Doctor of Literature by the University of Auckland in 1997.

Philip Temple expertly chronicles Shadbolt’s life and achievements through two substantial volumes describing in detail his life and work. The first book takes us up to 1973 and the second to his death in 2004. Complex in nature his life was often turbulent and controversial. As was often the case his activities were surrounded by controversy and he was constantly craving literary acceptance. Apart from his writing successes Maurice Shadbolt’s personal life is a fascinating story as it became increasingly chaotic, complicated and tumultuous the more successful he became.

Philip Temple is to be congratulated on the depth and scale of these two books. Nothing is left out, and he provides a comprehensive and very readable biography of a man whose later years were a challenge. Philip says

 “He came to prominence very quickly. He was about 30 at the time. Then people started to buy his books. In time he also became notable for his multiple marriages and affairs.” 

A prominent campaigner, he was a critic of the Vietnam War, took part in opposing the 1981 Springbok rugby tour and French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll.

Together these two books give a very detailed and comprehensive biography of one of Aotearoa’s important literary figures. Highly recommended.

Prague in my Bones: A MemoirJindra Tichý
A memoir highlighting the angst and difficulty faced when forced to leave the country of one’s birth and live a life in exile in a radically different country. Here Jindra (with the help of mentor and friend Geoffrey Walker) maps out the years of separation from her beloved home in Prague. The book highlights many of the adjustments and difficulties she and her family faced when they settled in Dunedin so her academic husband could work at the University of Otago.

This wonderful book describes perfectly many of the conflicting emotions that Jindra felt living in Dunedin. On the one hand grateful she and her family are safe and free, yet with a deep yearning for her homeland. We get to read about the devastating history of the Czechoslovakia and the destabilization of a way of life the Czech people experienced when communism was forced upon the country. It highlights how lack of basic freedoms that we take for granted can so easily be removed and the devastation this can cause to people personally and professionally.

It is also interesting to read how different Dunedin was, especially for women in the late 1960’s. Having had an academic vocation at the Charles University in Prague, we learn about how Jindra is able to reinvent an academic life for herself at the University of Otago, and about key people who helped her achieve this.

Well known in her native Czechoslovakia and a celebrated writer in her own tongue, this is the second book she has published in English (with the help of mentor and friend Geoffrey Walker). A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Interesting Fact: Both Dunedin and Prague are UNESCO Cities of Literature!

Buy Me LoveGreg Brook
What would happen if, in a small South Island village, each resident inherits $4 million? This is the basis for a novel where there is plenty of fun in store for the reader. A requirement that residents remain the town for 6 weeks until this generous legacy is paid is too hard for some members of the community to endure without resorting to some serious high jinks.

Filled with recognisable characters this book explores everyday issues: money problems, relationship difficulties, life in general. Inheriting a fortune should bring an end to worry right? Sadly no, as Greg Brook creates a patchwork of poor decision making, paranoia, dishonesty, trickery, greed, jealousy and loads of mayhem. Everyone’s story is linked to someone else and every action has consequences.

Buy Me Love is written with wry humour as we become familiar with people who have lived side by side doing their own thing and who are suddenly inextricably linked with good fortune. Some of the townsfolk get up to laugh out loud mischief and this adds to the charm of the story. This quirky book will appeal to many readers.