From our reviewers: NZ non-fiction

Last updated 13:49 09/08/2013

Southland Times reviewers take a look at some of the New Zealand non-fiction books on offer right now.

Alone
By Alina Suchanski (self-published, RRP $30)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

Everyone has a tale to tell and Tony Leparowski is certainly no exception. This is a biographical account of the early life of Tony, long-serving barber in Christchurch who died in May 2012.

Tony was born Antoni Leparowski in Eastern Poland in 1935, the youngest of four sons of Cecylia and Kazimierz. In September 1939, 17 days after the Nazi invasion of Poland which sparked World War II, Soviet Russia invaded Eastern Poland. Whatever their long-term agenda in annexing part of a neighbouring country, their next move was decidedly cold-blooded.

Prisoners of war were drafted and thousands put to death in an attempt to quash any anti-Soviet leadership. Likewise, vast numbers of the Polish population, like others in annexed countries, were arrested and dispersed across Soviet Asian territory to survive as best they could. As events changed and the Soviet Union was itself invaded, these internal refugees had opportunities to escape. In Tony's case, he alone of his family was able to transfer to Polish authorities in British- controlled Iraq.

In 1944 he was one of 733 children brought to New Zealand as war refugees. This book is both a tribute to his fortitude and endeavours as well as a testament to the Polish refugee children who made New Zealand their home.

The third-person style does at times seem thin but is of course a result of trying to fill out a whole story from what are Tony's memories and anecdotes. It's these poignant stories of Tony's early life that reinforce how lucky most of us have been.

Please Send Home and Far From Home and Family
Compiled and written by Mary Sutherland

Reviewed by Rosemarie Smith

Two books in one volume present Southland teacher Jack Bickley's experience of war, plus his daughter Mary Sutherland's account of a 2010 journey following the New Zealand army's trail through North Africa, Crete and Italy.

Bickley will be known to many of his ex-pupils from his country school service, but the record of his experiences will have resonance for a wider audience.

Returned servicemen did not talk of their experiences, their children didn't really want to hear, and now it is too late to ask. Few will inherit a tin trunk archive of photos, detailed diaries and letters such as those drawn together here.

The slow, matter-of-fact detail almost highlights the sacrifice to war of youth, freedom and more.

Bickley lost 3 1/2 years as he was about to begin his career, delaying his marriage to his beloved Irene, who was left waiting for letters and his return.

Endless waiting is a major theme: for instructions, for transport, for action - interspersed with the terror of battle.

As in the horror of the shooting alley breakout at Minqar Qaim, where Bickley records a detached half of his personality observing the murderous hail of fiery death as if a scene from a particularly lurid cinema "wondering if I were hit, and I couldn't see how I couldn't, would I be brave or not".

While admitting some understated upset at his first view of smashed bodies, battle-hardened months later he is describing incidental sights on a walk in Italy: "Lot of dead Germans about very old though".

There are other aspects though - the intellectual and physical challenge of his initial training for a "hush-hush" unit, the novel food, moments of fun and frivolity skiing in Italy, sightseeing, and the thrill of attending real opera in Rome.

In the companion travelogue tracing Bickley's travails, Sutherland and husband Fergus also go to Greece to track the last battles of the soldier uncle he was named for.

It is a further sad window on the impacts of war, visited like a plague across and down generations.

Enuff's Enough
By Bob McLean (Quantum Print, RRP $35)

Reviewed by Don Wright

Prominent Invercargill wool, skins and fur businessman Bob McLean has called it a day in the wake of a changed farming way of life in Southland.

The diminishing sheep numbers and worldwide collapse of the fur (opossum) industry had been stiff blows to cushion and forced his retirement.

"I don't blame many Southland farmers converting to dairying because returns are so much greater and that was a fact of life and was instrumental in the title of my book," the author said at the recent launch at Ascot Park Hotel.

The future of the wool industry was worrying as it was now controlled overseas and few young folk were now attracted to it in New Zealand, with leadership sadly lacking, he said.

McLean can reflect on a fulfilling 50 years in the industry, serving his apprenticeship with his late father L R (Lincoln) McLean, also a prominent harness racing identity.

The main thrust of the family industry was based in Waimate, Gore and Invercargill centres, with tenanted property investments in Lichfield St, Christchurch, badly damaged in recent earthquakes.

"The firm's strong international involvement with the fur industry was devastated by anti-fur animal lobbyists and campaigners and synthetic substitutes for wool with modern technology working miracles with those substitutes."

It was an ill wind that blew no good, McLean said, although his entrepreneurial Invercargill friend Keith Neylon had added hope and a new string to the bow of sheep farmers with his sheep milking concept and moves to breed smaller 20-kilogram lambs to satisfy some overseas markets.

The author regretted the departure of many young Southlanders who were being replaced on dairy farms by overseas workers.

McLean, a 67-year-old first-time author, is to be highly commended for his initial work as a writer. His painstaking research was aided by meticulous recording of company minutes and documentation for half a century.

The 165-page book, complemented by many significant colour photographs, provides a nostalgic and intriguing history of a major industry in the province's development that is now virtually a relic of a bygone era.

It can be obtained from Quantum Print, Dee St, Invercargill, in hard-bound and soft-cover format.

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