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Surviving Marmite by Anisa Maclean

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

Travel, so the age-old adage goes, broadens the mind - but it can also definitely bring with it challenges and unforeseen experiences that ultimately shape us to who we are. In telling her story, there is a real sense of catharsis from the author, a letting go of some things, while taking on and immersing herself in the ‘otherness’ of New Zealand culture.

There is much to enjoy throughout the memoir from this Iranian immigrant family. The writing is clear and straightforward - a trait that MacLean appreciates in others also - with a respectful approach to some of the elements of New Zealand life and culture that provide some initial misunderstandings and culture shock. Assimilation is not as straightforward as we may hope it to be.

Embarrassingly, Iranian culture was not one that was well known - so there was much to learn about the expectations and levels of control that the government in Iran hold over their people. One can only imagine the feelings when arriving in these shaky isles.

The misinterpretation of New Zealand concepts, and the misunderstanding of the English language do make for some humorous moments. Indeed, the vignette about MacLean trying Marmite at a friend's place as a child is one that many will relate to. Following on from this is a list from the author of the foods that just don’t match the Iranian palette that has several examples on it that many Kiwis would struggle with also!

Also among the short snippets of her life is the time spent living and learning in Japan. Like the differences between Iran and New Zealand, MacLean uses it as another reflection of life in a strange and new land. In Japan one gets the sense that MacLean really found herself, and learnt to make the most of opportunities.

Among the challenges one thing remains constant, the importance of family. The idiosyncratic eccentricities of her father are really a highlight of the story, but it is his solidified acknowledgement of majmooeh (or the family unit) that is a central thread that pervades the cast of characters throughout. One can imagine that for much of those early years in New Zealand, this ‘majmooeh’ was the driving force to get through each new day.

From her blog to her kickstarter, MacLean has somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit that shines through the pages of the memoir. It reminds the reader of what is possible with a sense of direction and drive. And many, many aspects of the story are impressive and inspiring. From her assimilation into the English language, through to her relationship with work and her own family.

There is a joyfulness to the story, one filled with hope and love. A wonderfully rewarding read.

Reviewer: Chris Reed


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