Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature by Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature

Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature books

Reviews of select reads for the season from our City of Literature collection

The Dark is Light Enough Ralph Hotere, A Biographical Portrait. Vincent O’Sullivan
After years of research finally we have a full and compelling portrait of Ralph Hotere, one of Aotearoa’s most significant modern artists. Hotere invited Vincent O’Sullivan, poet, novelist and biographer to write his life story, in 2005. Taking on this challenge was not an easy one, but with the cooperation of Ralph’s family, fellow artists and friends, we get a wonderfully full history of the man and the development of his unique and indelible art.

The book is peppered with photographs of Ralph throughout his life, but what captured me is the detail applied to describing significant series of paintings without the benefit of any photographic examples of Hotere’s works. It is remarkable how succinctly Vincent O’Sullivan describes many key series, an example being the Malady works with words by Bill Manhire, “The paintings also took on a range of visual echoing, suggesting at times strips of film, the piled words of epitaph, monumental pillars, arches, and the flooding of space with emerging or dissolving focus, as the words accrued or shed meaning.” Or his description of the corrugated iron panels, “the delicacy of the black-and-brown mottled surfaces, the sudden plunging runs of white paint poured and guttering their length, the no-nonsense directness of the stencilled words, again were unlike anything in New Zealand art.”

From his early years in Mitimiti, forging his career in art, international residencies, travel and inspirations, partnerships both professional and personal, protest works, his commitment to Port Chalmers, and the relentlessness of shining light on injustice (domestic or international), this book is a must read. The words just flow from the page and I could not put it down!

Port Manifold. Rob Allen
Beautifully produced in a box and inside printed in three chapbooks: ‘Rock and Word’, ‘Harbour and Port’ and ‘Black Phoenix’, Port Manifold is a triumph of poetry with comprehensive references and links to our local past. Beautifully descriptive and with layer upon layer of historical content, the chapters loop around themselves at times which I liked, coming back to a person, or event, and in doing so cementing that fact, like in a song. It brings to my mind sea shanties; introducing new information in the verses and returning to the heart of the song in the chorus.

I grew up in Deborah Bay (my family are named in the book) and many other people and some of the histories were already known to me. Successful and failed enterprises, connections, liaisons, births, deaths, marriages, tragedies; so much historical information is included here. I found this to be a wonderfully refreshing and fascinating charting of place, woven into verse for good measure. Highly recommended.

Ko Aotearoa Tatou/We are New Zealand: An Anthology.edited by Michelle Elvy, Paula Morris and James Norcliffe
After the terrorist attacks on two Christchurch mosques in March 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “We are all New Zealanders”. This anthology took its cue from her statement and submissions received resulted in the accumulation of 63 works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose from New Zealanders of many ethnicities.

The stunning cover image is the work of Clare Beynon and artworks represented by multicultural artists and organised by David Eggleton, creates visual respite throughout the book. An exploration of life in contemporary New Zealand, new young voices have been included in the mix adding to an amazing stable of well-known poets, storytellers and essayists, each with a different story to tell.

A book to be picked up and savoured at any time, there is something for everyone here. A couple of highlights for me are Breaking up with Captain Cook on our 250th anniversary, by Selina Tusitala Marsh, and Treading Water by Josie Shapiro.

ProtectionPaul Hersey
‘This is a story of love, loss and redemption, the bonds between family and the outdoors, and those rarest of opportunities to right past wrongs.’ Protection is a well-written tale told in the first person. Jase, our narrator, is questioned by his great-niece Zoe about a photograph she has found amongst her grandfather’s belongings. There is some confusion about the identity of one of the people in the photograph. So begins the narrative about the lives of Jase and his brother Duncan, once the family returned with their mother to her homeland on the West Coast. Running away has been Jase’s answer to everything: having to compete against his older brother Duncan: avoiding a growing love for his friend Kate: facing his fear of climbing in the mountains close to home.

Vivid descriptions of landscape and birds are used to great affect to describe the wild landscape that the family inhabit. The family are keen mountaineers and the thrill and danger of this pursuit helps to cement the potency of the story.

Inspired by the death of a mentor by an avalanche on K2, Paul Hersey has written an excellent book is highly recommended.

New Admissions: Tales of life, death & love in the time of lockdown.Mira Harrison
These four short stories offer a personal glimpse into the lives of four very different who have the connection of working in the hospital system. Mira Harrison is following on from the success of her book Admissions: Tales of life, death & love in a hospital not far from here, and this second volume will not disappoint fans. Each tale takes place during lockdown and it is interesting to read about the precautions, safety routines and anxiety COVID produced for those who were called to be essential workers.

Themes explored are universal, loss and love, caring and coping, joy and passion, fear and death. Mira’s writing easily exposes human foibles, and there are many moments throughout these stories that will resonate with readers. Day to day conversations, or thoughts and insecurities seem very real and easy to relate to. Having worked extensively as a doctor in hospitals, universities and government agencies in New Zealand and the UK, Mira’s knowledge has encompassed women’s health, medicines regulation, drug safety research and medical ethics. Having this extensive medical knowledge brings another dimension to these stories. An excellent read.