No, the other kind of Kiwi
January 12, 2018 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to New Zealand in March! Flights, hotels, and general plans are all booked, and now I want to read something by/about the region that will get me in the mood for this trip. Fiction, non-fiction, contemporary or historical: Kiwis, bring out your best!

The only NZ writer I know is Eleanor Catton, but I found The Luminaries intimidating and kinda hard to enter. In general, I enjoy character-driven fiction with strong emphasis on depicting a particular time/place/social class (a recent favorite was The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy), but am open to anything. Looking for books by NZ writers as well as stuff about the country by outsiders. Bonus points if it touches on the Maori experience.
posted by basalganglia to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The first novel usually recommended is The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, so I will go ahead and do that too.
posted by gaspode at 9:00 AM on January 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

You might want to look for stuff by Barry Crump. the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople was based on Wild Pork and Watercress.

Once were Warriors, by Alan Duff
Various short stories by Janet Frame
posted by gaspode at 9:07 AM on January 12, 2018

Ngaio Marsh wrote a whole lot of mid-century English mysteries, but she was from NZ, and four of her mysteries were set there: Vintage murder (1937), Colour scheme (1943), Died in the wool (1944) and Photo-finish (1980). If that's your kind of thing, they're good.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:13 AM on January 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, there have several really good posts on the blue in the last year, so just do a search for New Zealand or Maori and there should be some useful stuff for you.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like the Tito Ihaka series by Paul Thomas. The main character is a Maori detective in Auckland. The only problem is that I've been finding it hard to get a hold of the earlier books in the series here in the US.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2018

These suggestions are mostly older and more focused on the pakeha (European NZer) experience:

I love CK Stead and Maurice Gee. Plumb is the classic Gee, or I like Crime Story or Blindsight (the last two capture Wellington in a lot of detail, and reference local streets, politicians, and other local personalities - this may be a plus or a minus).

Credit in the Straight World by Brannavan Gnanalingam captures small-town NZ, and finishes with a fictional account of some big news events from the late 2000s (deliberately being vague to avoid spoilers).

Janet Frame's autobiography is wonderful (beginning with To The Is-Land).

This list looks good (though the top two are books by NZ authors set elsewhere). This list of non-fiction, as well (read Micheal King for history, James Belich if you've got time to read more in-depth).

This list is 25 years old, but looks solid. Short stories by Katherine Mansfield (probably NZ's most acclaimed writer) and Frank Sargeson would be worth a look, so would McGee's Foreskin's Lament, a sharp look at NZ rugby culture and John Mulgan's Man Alone.

Maori writers worth trying: Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera (wrote Whale Rider, you might have seen the film) as well as Duff and Hulme already mentioned.
posted by Pink Frost at 11:12 AM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tessa Duder's 'Alex Archer' quartet. YA books about a teenage girl champion swimmer in 1950s New Zealand, but that brief summary doesn't really do the series justice. Very character-driven, and with the strong sense of time and place you're seeking. Heftily feminist, with the perspective from a social outsider's viewpoint (Alex is gloriously strident, rejecting of compulsory femininity, and even rather butch at times). Reading these as a young butch girl myself, it was a joy to see someone like that as a protagonist.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Barry Crumps' Good Keen Man altho' published in 1960 describes the landscape and the ecology (and to some extent the people types) very eloquently and simply. Altho' it is primarily about culling pest animals (mainly deer and pigs).

Neville Peats' Detours
1982 is a classic slow-journey book of a bicycle trip and again captures the country of that time well (not that it has changed so much - the future, even the present is distributed very unequally here).

and The Treaty of Waitangi 1987 by Claudia Orange is an approachable read of NZ's history and our founding document.

Cinema of Unease explores NZ's rather dark approach to film-making. Sam Neill narrates while walking in classic backlot NZ scenery.

And really, really try and watch the first Goodbye Pork Pie
posted by unearthed at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2018

I'd go for Wild Pork and Watercress for Crump, which is the book Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on. It's a certain old fashioned masculinity which has continued influence I'd say but its a great coming of age story.

On masculinity. See non fiction book by Jock Phillips. A Man's Country.

I see Tessa Duder's Alex is mentioned above. I loved these books as a teen. Nice balance for all the manliness of Crump, Sargeson et al.

Potiki by Patricia Grace. A story about a Maori community under threat by the inexorable march of golf courses. Will give you a perspective on issues around place, identity and modernity for Maori.

2nding Janet Frame's autobiographical novels.

The Carpathians by Janet Frame is my favourite. It captures ideas of being an outsider tourist in a strange land, see also Cinema of Unease.

Also King's Being Pakeha which discusses white identities and anxieties in response to Maori Renaissance.

Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones is set in Bougainville during the war. Was kinda big when it came out.

I loved The Luminaries but yes you have to be in the right mood. I had to try twice to get into it. Maybe give it another go when you feel like it?

Oh and not a book but check out Don McGlashan, Front Lawn and The Muttonbirds. Nothing makes me cry like White Valiant or Miracle Sun. I just need to hear one line of This is London, Andy or Jackie's Song and I'm bawling. It's like a potent dose of a certain NZ for a homesick expat.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 6:15 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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