It's 1978 and the inhabitants of Gaialands, an idealist vegan commune in the Coromandel, are living the sustainable dream. Although, please, don't be fooled into thinking it's a hotbed of free-loving flower children - a bunch of dirty hippies smoking hash and making love. Rather, it's a self-sufficient community, free from the shackles of capitalism and social conditioning.
It's true, traditional monogamous relationships aren't all that important, although the adults can form partnerships if they want to and, as for the children, they're being raised as one amorphous tribe, with no idea who their siblings are or which adults are their biological parents. In theory, they're one big, happy family.
However, as the seven children mature and develop, they also start to experience the natural urges that arrive with adolescence so, one day, the adults decide it is prudent to explain to the children from which branches of the family tree they have sprung. The adults might be relaxed about sexual freedom but they're not at all keen to promote incest. And fair enough, too.
Poppy, our main character, is in her mid-teens and Gaialands is all she's ever known. As the story begins, the children, six of them aged from 17 down to 11, have just learned who their siblings are and which of the adults are their parents - pretty mindblowing stuff.
In many ways, their childhood comes across as idyllic, a gang of youngsters who, when they're not working, are free-ranging across the land, halcyon days spent at the beach with nothing but a bag of apples for food and each other for company. But it's also an isolated life, the food is plain, to say the least (molasses will never be a patch on maple syrup), and it's a lot of hard work - mucking out pig pens, digging long-drops, sharing everything and dealing with the seemingly endless damp of winter. Gaialands may not be perfect, but it was set up in good faith, the hearts of the early settlers are in the right place and it all runs pretty smoothly, at least on the surface.
Then one day a stranger arrives and everything changes forever. Rolling up in a rickety old car, towing an even more dilapidated caravan, Shakti literally crashes into their lives or, to be more precise, into the pigpen. An American hippie with a penchant for nudity, clairvoyance and raising consciousness, Shakti quickly exerts a powerful sway over almost everyone within the community: men, women and children. Intent on giving every member of the community psychic readings, when Poppy hears Shakti's prophecy for her, the prediction lodges like a splinter in her heart, a raincloud waiting to burst, and for years she can't shake it. In contrast, another of the teens, Lukas, interprets his fortune as mumbo-jumbo, insistent it means nothing to him. Yet Skakti is hard to ignore.
When one of the children disappears, seemingly off the face of the earth, the collective idealism fades and, as soon as the remaining six youngsters are old enough, they all leave Gaialands, many never to return.
The Predictions is set in distinct sections - childhood in the Coromandel, the period when soulmates Lukas and Poppy break away to Auckland, then London, to pursue Lukas' musical ambitions until the day unplanned parenthood takes centre stage - all over the space of about 10 years.
It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, from the Coromandel (including an especially evocative trip to the Nambassa music festival), the harsh realities of London (hardships, glam rock and good times), and the realities of raising a child. As the story hurtles towards its conclusion, secrets are uncovered, confessions are made, mistakes are admitted and occasionally they're even forgiven. Suffice to say, Bianca Zander is a superb storyteller
with a clear eye for character, location and time.
by Bianca Zander
(Little, Brown $29.99, out on Tuesday)