The Silence Beyond


Selected writings by Michael King

Penguin, $42

What an intelligent, sensible and eloquent man Michael King was! And what a stimulating series of writings his daughter Rachel has collected in this book.

It is one of those books that all New Zealanders should have in their library, and certainly it is one to be read, understood and used by such polarisers as Don Brash and Hone Harawira, along with the common man in search of objective truth.

King expresses 18 of his brilliant analyses, written and transcribed, in a clear and easily intelligible manner, befitting an historian whose recent death cut us from further essential knowledge of exactly who we all are, Maori and Pakeha alike.

His work contains many allusions to contemporaries like the poet Dennis Glover and lexicographer Harry Orsman, as well as to Shakespeare, Proust, GM Hopkins, and of course the Bible. In fact, his chapter on religion as it affected him (for example, his rejection of the "Catholic Mafia" and its intellectual totalitarianism) reveals his depth of thought and real wisdom.

King's own intriguing personal story, his genealogy, comes through in the opening extract, and is soon followed by comments on his education and life as a young man, often with a humorous bent, also shown in chapters on mistaken identities and being among practising Jews in New York City.

He is less gracious when dissecting those, like Maurice Shadbolt and Witi Ihimaera, who have misused history, but he is very positive indeed when eulogising the likes of fellow-authors Dan Davin, Janet Frame, Frank Sargeson and Jim Baxter, or speaking movingly of photographer Robin Morrison, or the old kuia, Nanny Taua. King's anecdotes on the literary world, especially of Dunedin, and on the making of the "Tangata Whenua" television series give priceless insights into well-known people as well as into bureaucrats and university friends.

He lived in a stimulating milieu, self-made to a large extent, and his writings reflect his interests and passions. Readers will find quite controversial the final chapter, on which of our cultures has primacy, which of the Maori and Pakeha has done more wrong, and better, but in our bicultural society we should be comforted by his conclusion that we have many things in common, shared traditions (obviously not in language or rituals) that deserve, indeed need, our mutual respect, a symbiosis.

Michael King was an erudite, perceptive man, not always serious but habitually with the discipline of a genuine scholar, with great research skills apparent.

His writing style is of the highest quality, almost poetic at times, and his messages are clear and unbiased. As a condensed version of his outpourings, this work should appeal to a wide readership.

The Timaru Herald