Sunday, 10 December 2006

Escape from Sarau, Leone Morris Bensemann, 2006

ESCAPE FROM SARAU Leone Morris-Bensemann, Scholastic, Auckland, New Zealand, 2006, 191 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99.
ISBN 1-86943-700-4

The flow of novels about young New Zealanders in history continues. In Escape From Sarau: The Diary of Emilie Ritter, Nelson District, 1882-83, 14 year-old Emilie feels oppressed by her strict and violent father. The Rev Ritter believes young women should be obedient, hard-working and married by 15. Since Emilie is helping her mother with the washing, cooking [several recipes are included], ironing and cleaning for her six brothers and sisters, she dreams of escape.

The author has strong family links to the German settlement at Sarau (now Upper Moutere) in Nelson, the inward-looking Lutheran settlement, where idle hands were a sin. Emilie’s diary paints a vivid picture of life in the 1880s, when typhoid was a menace and even pregnancy could be dangerous. There are also many lighter moments, especially when Emilie’s escape (to Waitotara of all places) has a very different outcome to what she planned.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on May 13th 2006.

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