This collection, co-edited by Julianne Schultz & Lloyd Jones, is published by Griffith University, Australia, as Issue 43 of its Griffith Review. It’s a revelation to me. My membership of The NZ Book Council got me sent a free copy – great move, NZBC – and a review on the radio by Tilly Lloyd of my favourite independent bookstore, Unity Books in Wellington, got me reading it. Fortuitous consanguinities!
The essays, memoir pieces, poems, reportage, fiction and photographs in Pacific Highways do something for me that is hard to put into words. I was born in New Zealand and though I have travelled a bit I have never lived anywhere else. This is my place and in this book I recognise it in a way I haven’t since reading Janet Frame five decades ago. Situating New Zealand in the Pacific as it does is part of it. Complicating relationships between city and country as well as among peoples from all over the world who have landed here, is another part. Overall, perhaps it is the way so many of the writers write as New Zealanders and as, if I may dare use the phrase, citizens of the world. I’ll use two examples to clarify.
Steve Braunias writes about walking across Auckland to the airport. “I just wanted to make my way to the border, on foot, and take in the view on the way.” What he saw, who he spoke to, gave him images and ideas that he shares with the reader, in a pot pouri of peoples from all over who, just now, are here. Observations. What was there, on the day. I was reminded of Teju Cole’s novel Open City, where the protagonist walks around New York.
Ian Wedde, in his essay about the tangi of artist Ralph Hotere, queries the stereotype that “cultural complexity” exists only cities, while he creates a rich portrait of the painter, the man. I feel as though I know Hotere, though he never knew me, through following his painting over the years and the public aspects of his life. Wedde puts him in a place, an iwi, ancestry, where he lived, where he had been, in and out of New Zealand, “Between here and there,” is the subtitle of this piece, and I think of Open City again. Each of the forty-five contributors adds something to the richness of the collection and I have so enjoyed reading them all.This book is about the only country I can call “my place” and shows its peculiarities and particularity AND how it is linked, in its past and it’s present, to “over there.” That’s what I like so much about it.
There’s all kinds of supplementary material at the Griffith Review website griffithreview.com, including a free Pacific Highways Volume 2, downloadable to any ereader.