Rapid Reviews: Autumn reading calling

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Who is Hank Marvin?” two perplexed young men asked me. WHO IS HANK MARVIN! Hank Marvin is part of my early cultural experience that’s who he is. He’s a legend: from teen idol to contemporary jazz musician : guitar player extraordinaire. He’s a legend but he’s not a legend in the life time of the under 40’s nor is he part of their cultural history, he’s merely part of their unknown past.

A well-known Tauranga artist paused in front of my market stall and expressed his distaste at the ancient and collectable Gollywog “Mammy doll” displayed for sale. He made clear his disquiet that those buying “gollywogs” had no idea of their significance and the depravity of the practices of slavery they represented. He also said how draining it was constantly explaining to the naïve or unknowing, the underlying issues of racism and slavery exemplified by the cute, cuddly, little gollywog.

My great-great Grandmother was a freed slave, either taken from West Africa or the child of someone transported as an animal and unit of work. I used to be of the opinion that gollwogs shouldn’t be displayed and that records of the Black & White Minstrels should be ritually destroyed. That’s until it dawned on me that generations were being born who have no awareness of the Holocaust or “ubermench” or the Irgun, or the Stern Gang who think the swastika is a local gang symbol, let alone the reality of the historically mass black enslaved. I decided that I would not hide away the cultural examples of slavery but rather acknowledge them for what they are: a reminder of that time, those behaviours and those attitudes. And this is what I tell the distressed artist. Then I hug him hard. Because even at his age he is still aware of issues of inequality and oppression.

If we remember the past, we may prevent the future

If we remember the past, we may prevent the future

I particularly enjoy reading crime and murder mysteries and cart them out of the Tauranga City Library in regular carloads. There are some books I read where, unlike the visually cuddly and benign gollywog, the subject matter is so grim and evokes such a strong emotional response that I am unable to allow the words to keep entering my brain.

As a former Family Court lawyer I like to think that I’ve seen and heard most of the ghastly things we can do to ourselves, each other and our children but Ostland is one of those books, like the daily news, that continues to remind me of what we really are. It’s a Hank Marvin and Gollywog book: it should be read. It should particularly be read by those who are of the opinion that current atrocities are ethnically and geographically unique.

Ostland David Thomas Quercus London 2013

A World War II based narrative I’ve described as “gripping”. This was more than gripping. It was so penetratingly believable and awful to a Post WWII child that towards the end I could not keep reading it. A very heavy and heart-rending read. It’s the kind of book I’d recommend to all older students to ensure the memory of the reality is not lost.

Where Death Delights Bernard Knight Seven House Publishers Limited England 2010

Set in the 1950’s and an interesting light read and insight into the period. However, if you’re reading it at the same time as Ostland, this book reads like a Women’s Weekly article and appears simple, trite and silly. So don’t do that. Save it for a downtime holiday or a wet weekend. It won’t tax your brain or arouse any complex emotions but you’ll be able to enjoy it for what it is.

As She left it Catriona McPherson Midnight Ink Woodbury 2013

This book was like eating chocolate truffles – once I started it was impossible to stop. I had to read it twice because I was so keen to find out what was going on I couldn’t put it down. It’s the story of people. It’s quite believable. I didn’t expect all the endings. On the re-read I didn’t think the writing style was so good but then on the first reading this book was something I would have gone back to save if the house was on fire and then sat in the garden reading while the fire engines were coming – what else can I say. I loved it.

Kind of Cruel Sophie Hannah Hodder & Stoughton UK 2012

A psychological thriller with a different approach. I didn’t find the ending of this so believable

The Scold’s Bridle Minette Walters Allen & Unwin 2004

This is another story about people I found quite believable and couldn’t put down. The ending is heart-breaking but not unexpected. Those interested both in the insidious effects of abuse and a good read should seek this one from the shelves of the Tauranga City Library.

Let the Dead Lie Malla Nunn Macmillan Australia 2010

Set in post-war Durban, South Africa it’s another memory prompting insight into the reality of classification by “colour”. A YES! read.

Private Oz James Paterson Michael White, Random House Australia 2012

This was a great Australia-based read. It shows the diverse ethnicity of Australia through a serial killer theme. Another YES! Read.

Photo0422Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

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