by Tony Chapelle
This fascinating book recounts the lives of a family who emigrated to New Zealand from an estate in Wales. One branch of the family goes to Taranaki, and the other to Fiji.
The story is a sequel to two other books of Chapelle’s, Merely a Girl, and The Youngest Son, but this one is complete in itself and is a compelling read.
The New Zealand part of the story is told through the eyes of Jamie Ashcott, great grandson of the first settlers in Taranaki, and begins immediately after the Second World War.
His mother is greatly affected by the death of her eldest son, Haddon an RAF pilot killed in the war. She gives Jamie a diary, written by her grandmother, Adelaide Gilbard who settled in Taranaki in the 1860s. This diary gives an account of Taranaki during the Land Wars, and Adelaide’s shame and disgust at the treatment of Maori at Parihaka. She has a close friend, a Maori woman known as Hannah, and the two of them start a group of women dedicated to the uniting of the Maori and European peoples. Their vision is not of sameness, but of a society based on mutual respect and tolerance. She despairs as the pressure of European society causes a loss of vitality and spirit amongst the Maori.
Jamie finishes school and goes to university in Wellington, where he comes in contact with a part Fijian young woman, Tela Gilbard, a scholarship winner from Fiji. She is a very attractive and intelligent woman, who has her own story of childhood and maturity at boarding school in New Zealand. She has some opposition because of her mixed-race parentage, but still retains her confidence and a strong self-belief.
The rest of the book is concerned with the coming of age of these two children of the Pacific, and the discovery that they can both trace their distant origins back to the same estate in Wales.
I enjoyed the book greatly, and in particular I could identify easily with the 1950s New Zealand of my childhood, and feel that the path to maturity of the two Pacific children, parallels the maturity of New Zealand as a nation, and its struggle towards a multi-cultural society.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to others, and I would like to read the other two books in the series.
Author: Tony Chapelle
Publisher: Rangitawa Publishing 2017
Available: Print only, from Bruce McKenzie Booksellers and other selected bookshops, and through Amazon, Fishpond, Wheelers, and from the publisher.