Ko Aotearoa Tātou - We Are New Zealand
Edited by Michelle Elvy, Paula Morris and James Norcliffe. Art editor, David Eggleton.
Otago University Press, $40
Reviewed by Kelly Gardiner
"Today and for ever we are all New Zealanders." Jacinda Ardern's statement in the harrowing days after the Christchurch terror attack was not just a denunciation of hatred and racism, but also a call to action – or perhaps a call to kindness. Her words posed a question: who are New Zealanders today?
This collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, illustration and painting is a reflection on that idea – or rather, many reflections.
Ko Aotearoa Tātou is an aesthetically stunning cultural artefact, skilfully edited. But it's more than that. It maps diasporas in many directions, it captures the many sensibilities of a nation at this crucial moment in time, it reflects a changing and changed community, and it presents absolutely gorgeous creative work.
It gives voice to many voices, from high school students to renowned poets, north or south or somewhere else completely; grieving and angry and celebratory; Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, new migrants and people who've grown up bridging cultures.
The anthology opens with Massacre, Tusiata Avia's gut-wrenching "poem that will not end", with its white spirits rising from the swampy ground beneath Christchurch to "kill those who kneel". But perhaps one of this book's most important conversations is about migrant experiences, and the complex idea of home. "This is the country where we cross borders every day," writes Ghazaleh Golbakhsh.
The experience of exile or migration, Ali Shakir writes, is as if "I'm somewhere in the middle, standing on a bridge", living in NZ but dreaming of Baghdad: "I've been roaming our garden in my dream almost every night." It is still an uneasy relationship, as Lynette Leong writes: "home is here only/it does not want/you … /you are a foreign body."
This isn't a comfortable book and it isn't mean to be. Instead, it's a chance to reflect and to feel, to engage with many versions of what it might mean to be a New Zealander. A series of diverse and compelling artworks underscores this approach, such as subversive takes on the classic view of Mt Taranaki (by Fiona Clark) or a Victorian beach landing a la Jane Campion (Takitimu Landing Site, Waimarama, by Yuki Kihara) or a fierce comic panel on complacency (Barking, by Eddie Monotone).
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You'll find humour (as in Selina Tusitala Marsh's Breaking up with Captain Cook on our 250th anniversary) and love and childhood memory and food – oh, so much food. Renee Liang's Mr Zhou's Kitchen traces the "kneaded rhythms" of a migrant's voyage through time and place. It leads into stories of cooking and remembered meals, of bacon and eggs, pan-fried tarakihi, roti, fatayer and chips on the beach.
Debra Daley's memoir What happened, Mike? is an ethereal elegy for a lost brother, and Blaine Kelly's short story Duckie is a pitch-perfect snapshot of Queen St at night, weekends at the beach, and growing up queer in a small town.
"We're part of the story of contemporary New Zealand," writes Golbakhsh. And, as this fine anthology proves, contemporary New Zealand has many stories of us.
Kelly Gardiner is a novelist who teaches creative writing at La Trobe University, and divides her time between Melbourne and Waiheke Island. A long version of this review will appear at www.anzliterature.com