Saturday, 25 November 2006

Sea of Mutiny, Ken Catran, 2005

SEA OF MUTINY Ken Catran, Random House, Auckland, New Zealand, 2005, paperback, 152 pages, NZ$18.95 ISBN 1-86941-707-0

THE GUARDIAN OF THE LAND Joanna Orwin, HarperCollins, [1985], Collins Modern New Zealand Classics series, 2005, Auckland, New Zealand, paperback, 231 pages, NZ$16.99
ISBN 1-86950-575-1

THIRD DEGREE Tania Roxborogh, Longacre, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2005, paperback, 153 pages, NZ$18.95 ISBN 1-877361-10-0

LAND OF MILK AND HONEY William Taylor, HarperCollins, Auckland, New Zealand, 2005, paperback, 160 pages, NZ$16.99 ISBN 1-86950-549-2

Great teenage reading:

Has there ever been a better time for young New Zealanders to read novels? Of the four selected this month, three are set in New Zealand, three are by writers connected with Canterbury and all four are well-written stories aimed at teenage readers.

Ken Catran’s Sea of Mutiny is full of surprises about the Bounty mutiny, not least how young some of those involved were. Only 14 when he first sailed on the Bounty, Midshipman John Hallett was one of the 18 loyal men set adrift in a small boat with Lieutenant William Bligh, when Fletcher Christian seized the ship. Hallett, a sharp observer, tells of Bligh’s amazing seamanship – navigating a crowded open boat on a 48 day voyage from Tonga to Timor – and reflects on Bligh’s unusual personality, and whether mutiny could have been avoided.
Catran has researched well and creates a lively picture of the hard life at sea, and the dramatic contrast with Tahiti, seen by the crew as a sailors’ paradise. This fast-moving action story offers fresh insights into well-known events.

The main characters of Joanna Orwin’s The Guardian of the Land are also young but soon find themselves facing adult challenges. Searching for an ancient whale tooth pendant, Rua and David are repeatedly thrown back in time, experiencing some of Kaikoura’s turbulent past. They hunt seals with Ngai Tahu, witness a brutal massacre by Te Rauparaha, join shore-whalers harpooning a sperm whale and encounter racial prejudice and injustice. Joanna Orwin’s deep knowledge of history and science are reflected in this richly detailed novel.
First published twenty years ago, its message remains timeless. Respect for the land, its past and its power, brings Maori and Pakeha together in a lively conclusion. The pendant which lies at the heart of the story can be seen in the Canterbury Museum.

A minor burn, while poaching an egg, triggers a rush of memories for Ruth in Tania Roxborogh’s Third Degree. Now a student at Massey, Ruth recalls being badly scalded when she was ten and spending months in hospital. Children’s wards were once grim places and Roxborogh (using some of her own experiences in this story) has created a sharply drawn and sometimes very funny group of child patients, who show that the mind is as easily scarred as the body. To fill the gaps, Ruth has to ask her family about the past and soon realises that memory is a complex matter. Her mother has her own secrets and revealing the truth proves painful for both. The excitement, as Ruth puts together the jigsaw of her memories, makes this a gripping novel of healing and acceptance.

The charitable gesture of shipping British orphans to the Empire after World War Two led to some injustices. William Taylor’s ironically titled historical novel, Land of Milk and Honey, is based on genuine events, which adds to its grim flavour. Jake is not an orphan; his mother died in the bombing of Coventry and his father hopes he will prosper in New Zealand. Only 14 when he arrives at the Pearson’s run-down dairy farm in Taranaki, Jake is forbidden to go to school and is brutally ill-treated by both Mr Pearson and his son Darcy. After a failed escape attempt, Jake finally finds sanctuary with the peppery local doctor. When Darcy is released from Borstal, he attacks Jake again and the ensuing violence means that Jake has to face up to its corroding effects.
While there are shocking scenes of savagery in this novel, Jake is able to come to terms with what has happened, and his efforts to resume a normal life are successful. This historical novel, one of Taylor’s best, has a strong message for the present day.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, on September 17th 2005.

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