Set in 1950s Auckland, From the Ashes follows the lives of friends and family in a time when things are changing, especially for women who are joining the workforce in numbers.
Ana Leonard is trying her best to care for her father-in-law in their home as he slowly succumbs to dementia – and everything is made far worse when they are forced to sell their rural farm and move to the city.
Allie Manaia works on the beauty counter at Smith and Caughey’s, but she is struggling with nightmares two years on from the Dunbar and Jones fire, where some of her friends died. Allie is married to Sonny, who is Maori, and one of her rich customers, Kathleen Lawson, has a lot of negative things to say when she finds out. But Kathleen shouldn’t be pointing fingers with the problems that are going on behind closed doors in her own home.
Sonny’s beautiful sister Polly is enjoying the relaxing moral standards of the era, leaving her mother to raise her daughter – intent on good times and earning lots of money.
From the Ashes is a fascinating novel that reflects a unique time in New Zealand. The 50s was the beginning of consumerism, but only if you earnt a decent wage, and many people didn’t. It was also a time of intolerance, despite social changes.
Deborah Challinor is the author fifteen acclaimed novels, so the reader is in very assured hands. Obviously, a huge amount of work has gone into this book, but she’s done a good job of not letting the history overtake the storytelling. From the Ashes is the perfect blend of fact and fiction, with great characters and a wonderful sense of place and time.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan
HarperCollins, RRP $36.99