by Tulia Thompson, Tze Ming Mok, Courtenay Sina Meredith, Ruth Larsen,
Tui Gordon. Edited by Janet McAllister
Five gifted writers, educated in and living in Auckland, combine to give us an exemplary selection of contemporary essays, and in a beautifully designed book.
Firstly to the aesthetics of the book, white hardcover, with an embossed title in black. The cover also has what can be described as a psychedelic stain, and this appears in different colours on each essay’s title page, as well as in the gutter of every verso page. There is also a motif of five hills, or mountains, two of which are pointed peaks.
So the content can flow like a rolling hill, or reach a peak of poignancy, or just personal discomfit. The editor states that the authors have chosen subjects that are usually discussed in private. Maybe; or only discussed amongst groups of women in Auckland cafes.
Ruth Larsen traverses the complexity of her two children’s extra-curricular activity, or the “perils of parental FOMO,” whatever that is. Courtney Sina Meredith details her 20 years of excruciating pain with endometriosis, and finally getting to the other side. Tui Gordon explores the issue of female sexuality, within a same sex relationship, against the background of the latest feminist ‘wave’, and adjusting to her partner’s history of abuse. Tulia Thompson starts from that point, and, despite her tertiary education, relates her life of relative poverty and economic insecurity, having to continually provide personal information to the authorities.
But the book begins with Tze Ming Mok’s essay on her people, those that can’t discuss anything in public, whether that be personal or political views. She addresses a male friend who may alive, dead, or being sequestered in a re-education camp for Uighurs. Mok’s essay is a tour de force that traverses ethnic identity, Chinese politics and society, family history and migration. At once she is a Han coloniser within a Chinese context, and an exile, due to her grandfather’s defection. Mok indicates how categories of complicity and dissent are not separate when surviving a repressive regime; and how the psychological effects of State surveillance can reach across borders and generations, even affecting ‘white’ political scientists in a nominally liberal democratic country like New Zealand, such as Professor Ann-Marie Brady.
Tze Ming Mok writes similes and metaphors beautifully and straight to the point. She refers to the surveillance activity as receiving ‘The Knock’, which can come at any time. As a Han Chinese she describes herself as an ‘ant’, and part of the army whether she likes it or not. Where once her grandfather was an apparatchik with a clipboard, she also finds herself adopting the practice of “tut-tutting with a clipboard,” when admonishing the racists amongst us, or the other ‘white-adjacent’ migrants. At the end she addresses her friend: “all I can do is lock you in my mind into your little house on the edge of the desert…fixed in time under luminous vines, encircled by protective sands…maybe one days the sands will shift again…and everything we built and hid for each other will be revealed.” So ends something of a masterpiece, marred only by the odd expletive, and lack of explanation of terms like merdeka (a Malaysian word).
So this book reflects the views of five feminists living around the dormant volcanoes of Auckland. Will it get the recognition it deserves beyond the Bombay Hills?
Author: Tulia Thompson, Tze Ming Mok, Courtenay Sina Meredith, Ruth Larsen, Tui Gordon