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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Strong Words 3

'Strong Words 3' showcases some of the most compelling contemporary essays recently written in Aotearoa New Zealand. Curated from entries to the prestigious annual Landfall Essay Competition, this collection features insightful and beautifully crafted nonfiction on a diverse range of topics. As these excerpts highlight, 'Strong Words 3' contains incisive cultural commentary, poignant personal narratives, and deep historical analysis.

Several essays in the collection grapple with New Zealand's ongoing colonial legacy and social inequities. Pieces like Andrew Dean's 'The New Man' rigorously excavate the country's history of anti-Semitism and racial prejudice. Other works confront issues like gender discrimination, healthcare inequality, and the cultural erasure of indigenous languages. The collection refuses to shy away from exposing ongoing societal failings and traumas rooted in colonisation.

At the same time, the anthology holds space for more intimate subjects. Essays like Tina Makereti's 'Lumpectomy' bravely explore physical and emotional boundaries through vivid storytelling. Other personal narratives in the collection offer windows into experiences like grief, memory, and the trials of parenting. While culturally-focused essays analyse flawed structures of power, the more memoiristic pieces highlight everyday human struggles.

Formally, the anthology displays the versatility of contemporary essays, which utilise fragmentary stories, research, humour, and experimental structures. Some pieces take a more journalistic angle, incorporating interviews and data to contextualise social issues, while others opt for a lyrical, poetic style. The collection showcases the capaciousness of nonfiction, from heavily researched arguments to impressionistic personal musings.

Overall, 'Strong Words 3' functions as a compelling snapshot of essay writing in present-day Aotearoa. The concerns animating these pieces, from confronting injustice to exploring individual identity, feel distinctly contemporary. There is a palpable sense that these essays capture the cultural tensions and contradictions of the current moment in New Zealand. Yet the collection also gestures toward continuities with the past, using essayistic styles like memoir and polemic to work through national and personal histories.

For readers seeking a lens into life in 21st-century New Zealand or an introduction to the country's contemporary literature, 'Strong Words 3' offers a vibrant cross-section. Those already familiar with authors like Ashleigh Young will discover new kindred voices grappling with the complexities of modern life through narrative nonfiction. Much like the essay form itself, the collection shifts fluidly from introspection to analysis, cementing the genre's relevance as a means to illuminate the sociocultural now. 'Strong Words 3' makes a compelling case for the essay's vitality as a space for storytelling, critique, imagination, and witness.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Otago University Press


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