Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016, Edited by Susanna Andrew & Jolisa Gracewood

I love a good non-fiction anthology. Collated from journals, magazines, websites and beyond, this collection has true tales of tragedy, transformation, stories from home and abroad and more. I’m too lazy to go out and find good Kiwi writers for myself, the internet is a daunting place, so to have someone else do it for me is a marvellous thing. Getting an idea of who is out there in my newly adopted country can only be beneficial to my understanding of the culture here. Plus, short-ish essays suit my attention span.

With a foreword from John Campbell – I’ve been here long enough to know about him – you know you’re on to a good thing. His introduction is beautiful. So great, in fact, that I hoped he wouldn’t overshadow the rest of the book. Thankfully he didn’t. The compilers have done a wonderful job of assembling the pieces to give the book structure. Each study – and they are studies, in-depth musings on personal experiences and beyond – has a thread which connects itself to the next. They all have something to say about the human condition, their observations give you something on which to ponder, a seed of thought that grows and gives life to your own understanding of a subject.

The stand out piece for me is Charles Anderson’s ‘Into the Black: The Easy Rider Story’, the only one not written in the first person. The tale of a fishing boat that sank in the Foveaux Strait leaving one survivor, it is expertly handled. Told with a fractured narrative it captivates; it sucks you in and spits you out at the end, battered by the waves of the strait and the sorrow surrounding the whole sorry adventure. I needed to put the book down and reflect for a couple of hours before I could return to it.

Another enthralling tale, and one that surprised me for being so, was Jenni Quilter’s ‘2WW’, a memoir of her experience with IVF. Not wishing to have babies myself and not really comprehending the desire to procreate that is so strong in women of my age, I initially dismissed the piece as “not my cup of tea”. Sometimes I’m wrong. Quilter’s pain is tangible; her words convey the sadness of being unable to conceive and the desperate hope on to which she clings. I was moved. Her writing is both affecting and effective.

There’s no weak link in this collection; whether they are writing about museums and memory, Christchurch buses, China or precious lost items, the authors make you care about their ideas. Read this book – be inspired, think deeply and be transported. Tell you what, this is worth it.

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A Jill of all trades, mistress of none, Kate has tried everything: prison psychology, volunteering with homeless people, teaching English abroad, and editing a magazine in China (thankfully not in Chinese!). A born procrastinator, she’s been working on her autobiographical book for the past five years and has got nowhere. Although wanderlust fills her heart she is happiest performing her comedy poems at spoken word nights and getting inordinate amounts of attention.

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