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In Our Own Backyard by Anne Kayes

COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 brought about a whole host of changes inside our homes. Some people chose sourdough, others chose - or didn’t choose - endless Zoom. Some struggled. Others reconnected. For the protagonist in this novel In Our Own Backyard by Anne Kayes it was an opportunity for Eliza (Liza) to share her story of the 1981 Springbok Tour with her children.

The story has two time frames, one follows the events that led up to the Springbok tour for a young version of Liza and the other is the events of the lockdown that led to sharing her story with her family. Both capture a sense of Kiwi culture but in different ways. It is easy to see both the contrasts and the parallels between the two stories as they are told concurrently. The ‘current’ time version often introduces elements to the story or demonstrates incredulity on the part of her now teenage children.

Many readers will, themselves, remember the events that unfolded in that troublesome time from New Zealand’s history and younger readers will be able to connect with the events of the lockdown and the ideas that young Liza goes through as a teenager. From political marches to rallies for HART (Halt All Racist Tours) the book covers the unrest that built to fever pitch around the nation and captured the world’s attention. A little country doing big things against the apartheid regime.

The sequences of the book set in 1981 also use Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as a kind of analogous plot line that connects with young Eliza’s relationship with Harry and the events unfolding around them.

The climax of the story progresses over several chapters and is logically associated with the Eden Park protest. The fast paced action and the description of events has stunning writing sections and vividly portrays the energy, fear and tension that these protests and general riotous atmosphere had. This section, in particular, is very strong and impactful.

Overall, this was an impressive description of two of (arguably) the most significant events in the recent history of New Zealand - the COVID-19 crisis and the Springbok Tour in 1981. Bringing the two together like this is both timely and rewarding. It was a pleasure to read this.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Bateman Books


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