Rich Man Road by Ann Glamuzina
Ann Glamuzina’s debut novel Rich Man Road exhibits all the elements of a finely woven basket, where several distinct threads are interlaced into a tight pattern of harmonious connections – connections which are made up of people’s lives and the act of telling their stories.
Reminiscent of the beginnings of the multicultural development of New Zealand, the novel goes back to a time where immigration to New Zealand was not always equated with arriving in the “land of milk and honey”, and where new immigrants often suffered from loss and cultural displacement.
The stories of two such immigrants – Dalmatian born Olga, and Samoan Pualele – intersects when they meet in a convent in New Zealand: Olga, an elderly nun who has been a sister in the convent for many years, and Pualele, the young potential new recruit to the order. When Olga passes away from cancer, Pualele finds Olga’s diary, which has been addressed to Pualele, and which narrates the past that Olga has been keeping inside for many years. The novel switches between the stories of the two women – Olga as a twelve year old back in 1944, war-torn Dalmatia, and Pualele’s arrival in New Zealand from Samoa in 1978 – and traverses their journeys across times and places.
Olga lives with her mother and her younger brother in a small mountainside village around the Adriatic Sea. With her father and older brother away in New Zealand, the remaining family relies heavily on Olga’s Uncle, her father’s younger brother, who tries to keep them out of harm’s way, especially once the German’s arrive in the village and start confiscating houses and food. What initially starts off as a fairly predictable – and at times confusing – scenario soon turns into a fascinating fight for survival, as Olga unwittingly causes the family’s need to flee their village and become refugees.
Just like Olga, Pualele also reluctantly leaves behind her village and everything she knows about life – but instead of being a refugee, she becomes an unwelcome “over-stayer” in a severely racist 1970s Auckland, where her parent’s hopes of providing her with a better life than in Samoa is undermined by a system which treats Pacific immigrants like third class citizens. Pualele is caught up in the worst of this bewildering and scary new world, and without being able to escape she soon starts turning her fear inwards on herself.
Ann Glamuzina – who is of Dalmatian heritage herself- represents the different geographical and ethnic settings with great skill, and manages to capture a real sense of the richness of different countries and cultures. The characterisations of Olga and Pualele both embody not just the feeling of being homeless, but also of being motherless – as both girls in a literal and non-literal sense lose their mothers on their journeys from their homeland to New Zealand.
The author also plays with the idea of turning to religion as a way to find a place to belong – where the convent becomes not just a refuge from an un-negotiable outside world, but also from the turmoil and guilt that is experienced by both of the main characters. In the end the question remains whether such an escape is the best way to deal with the trauma that both Olga and Pualele carry inside of them.
Rich Man Road is an engaging, well written novel by a new writer. The juxtaposed female voices bring to life relevant insight into chapters of history – the kind of history that is in some sense replicated all over the world by refugees, immigrants, and migration of peoples across the world in search of a place to call home.
REVIEWER: Tanya Allport
Rich Man Road, by Ann Glamuzina, is published by Eunoia Publishing.