by Vicky Adin
When Matteo Borgoni steps ashore in Port Chalmers in January 1863, he is a man on a mission, and it isn’t to scurry off to the Otago goldfields. Instead, he is determined to set up business in Dunedin. Soon he is hanging out his shop sign as a picture framer.
In the months and years that follow, up to 1892, Adin takes us through the growth of Dunedin from a town built in wood to the majestic city of brick and stone that we know today.
There is sadness in Matteo’s life but he finds solace in his friendship with William Hodgkins.
This first part of the book is thoroughly researched with frequent references to actual events such as the laying of the Cook Strait telegraph cable, Henry Farley’s development of the Vauxhall Gardens, the sinking of the Tararua and many more.
Part 2 sees the focus shift to the years 1913-18 in Invercargill. Matteo’s nephews, Riccardo and Tommaso, having joined him from Italy, have inherited and expanded the business and it is in the Invercargill branch that we meet the man whose story and portrait form the intriguing puzzle which his descendants set out to solve in part 3.
Fast forward now to Auckland in autumn 2020. Against a backdrop of Covid-19, we catch up here with people from one of Adin’s earlier books, The Cornish Knot. Although Portrait of a Man is a sequel to that one, the key players have moved on so that this second book is a completely stand-alone story.
Readers with even just a passing interest in family trees and genealogy will be drawn into the fragments of a mosaic-like mystery that need to be pieced together in the third part of the book. During lockdown last year, many of us used the time to delve into our families’ pasts: this time in our lives plays out in Portrait of a Man, giving the book a real sense of immediacy and recognisable drama.
Adin has cleverly placed Portrait of a Man apart from other historical novels set in New Zealand’s pioneer years. By keeping Matteo in Dunedin in the 1860s instead of sending him off to Gabriel’s Gully, and by showing us the World War I years from the viewpoint of Italian immigrants, there is nothing at all predictable about the story. The mould is broken even further by referring back from time to time to events and attitudes in Italy, making this a refreshingly different family saga which I enjoyed on many levels.
Author: Vicky Adin
Publisher: AM Publishing New Zealand
Available: Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Portrait-Man-secrets-destroy-artists-ebook/dp/B08JPR1D2D ebook and print
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