Five of the best classic Kiwi novels
With the Auckland Writer's Festival about to get underway, here are five classic novels by Auckland authors you need to have read to truly understand local literature.
With strong characters, dramatic story lines and deep plots these are books by Aucklanders and often infused with Auckland style.
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1 CK Stead - Smith's Dream
The elder, sometimes curmudgeonly, statesman of Auckland literature, C.K. Stead is a novelist, literary critic, poet, essayist, professor of English at the University of Auckland and one of only two living writers to be made a Member of the Order of New Zealand, our highest level of honour.
Smith's Dream was written in 1971 as the world was focused on the Vietnam war. It imagines New Zealand after we have voted in a demagogue populist who tears apart our democratic fabric, imposing marital law and Smith reluctantly finds himself part of a growing resistance movement. In the era of Trump and Brexit, the novel gains alarming new relevance. It was made into a film staring Sam Neill and directed by a young Roger Donaldson. But don't cheat, read the book.
2 Paula Morris - Rangatira
Morris, of Ngati Wai descent, teaches creative writing at the University of Auckland and was founder of the Academy of New Zealand Literature – the latest post in a career which has taken her to universities in the USA and UK. Rangatira has been called an "extraordinary literary achievement and probably the best of recent New Zealand historical novels."
It is based on the true story of Morris' tupuna, Ngati Wai chief Paratene Te Manu, who in 1863 travelled to England. It begins with Paratene having his portrait painted by Gottfried Lindauer, which triggers memories of that fateful trip - from meeting with royalty in London, to the disintegration of the visit into poverty, mistrust, and humiliation.
3 Albert Wendt - Sons for the Return Home
Novelist, poet, artist, Albert Wendt was one of the first of a new generation of Pasifika writers and has played a major role in promoting Pacific literature. He is the second living writer to be a member of the Order of New Zealand.
Sons, written in 1973, tells of the Romeo and Juliet style story of a young Samoan in love with a middle class Pakeha. Hard-hitting in exposing the racism and social problems faced by Pasifika migrants, it is as relevant today as it was then, with migrants from all cultures facing the same issues and the timelessness of the star-crossed lovers plot. Sons too was made into a film.
4 Emily Perkins - The Forrests
Early in her career Emily Perkins was acclaimed as an important writer of her generation. She has won or been shortlisted for many significant awards and prizes and The Forrests has been labelled an extraordinary literary achievement.
The novel, from 2012, tells the story of Dorothy Forrest as her family moves from New York City to Auckland. We follow her through turmoils of family, marriage, motherhood, aging and loneliness. Though she faces anguish and loss in her life, the sheer joy of being is a vitalising, potent pulse throughout the story.
5 Maurice Gee - In My Father's Den
Gee is one of our most distinguished novelists of both adult fiction and children's books - every child from the 1980s will remember the thrill of Under the Mountain. Gee grew up in Henderson and Auckland suburbs or landmarks often features in his books – identifiable, even when he disguises them with a fictitious name.
In My Father's Den was his third novel, published in 1972. A murder mystery, it revolves around the death of a 17-year-old school girl and suspicion falls on her English teacher and mentor. As the investigation continues, a family tears itself apart. This novel too was later made into a film.