A review of Griffith REVIEW 43: Pacific Highways

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Griffith REVIEW 43: Pacific Highways
Edited by Julianne Schultz, Lloyd Jones
Griffith University
$27.99, 29/01/2014, ISBN: 9781922182241, 264pp, Paperback / softback (234mm x 153mm)

I’m going to be upfront here and admit that I’ve got a bit of a crush on New Zealand.  I still love my home country Australia, and unlike my husband, don’t feel the need to move there permanently, but everything about New Zealand seems to be drawing me in at the moment.  That’s partly because it’s utterly and almost unrelentingly beautiful.  It’s also because there seems to be a very strong sense of ecological responsibility that pervades the place – a deep sense of appreciation of the beauty and delicacy of the flora and fauna.  There also appears to be a much more forward thinking sense of the impact and importance of multiculturalism there.  Of course there are exceptions, but ecology and multiculturalism are two key elements that seem to shape and pervade the artwork that is featured in Griffith REVIEW 43: Pacific Highways. Even without the lure of a New Zealand themed edition, Griffith REVIEW is a beautifully curated quarterly – attractively presented with colour plates, excellent writing, and culturally relevant themes explored in a range of ways including essay, memoir, fiction, painting, photography, and poetry. The Pacific Highways edition however, is a real standout for me, presenting a series of perspectives of New Zealand that resist the facile and go far deeper into an exploration of both islands including the historical, the political, the aesthetic, and the personal.

There is so much diversity in the work presented – some of it written from the point of view of the migrant or even observer. The vantage point changes. The two editors, Julianne Schultz and Lloyd Jones open the book by orienting the reader, providing a kind of guide to modern New Zealand – from the indigenous history to the transition to the current polyglot nation “where all children learn Maori in school” and Auckland is one of the “most cosmopolitan cities in Australasia, boasting 160 ethnicities…”  Roberto Onell takes a Chilean perspective, looking eye-to-eye across the Pacific Ocean to his neighbour 9,700 kms away.  His essay, “To a neighbour I am getting to know” is translated, as are a number of the pieces in the books, also reflecting the polyglot nature of New Zealand. Following Onell’s essay is Li Po’s poem, translated from Chinese by New Zealand poet Ya-Wen Ho.  Ya-Wen Ho’s translation is a delicate, moving thing that is so much richer and lighter than Arthur Waleys original translation which is shown together with the work.  There are many essays throughout the book on migration, to and from New Zealand, and not only human migration.  Gregory O’Brien looks at eel migration, both literally, and as it relates to the movement of people: “On the intersecting tapa-matrix of these plotted lines we could then locate ourselves as beings deeply rooted in a place (or space) but also migratory, transient, in flux.”

Poetry flows throughout the book, with ten New Zealand oriented poems, from James Brown’s proverb-like “Demarcations” to Geoff Cochrane’s almost Haiku like “Equinoctial”:

Coffee. What a racket.  I must be nuts.
But I’m making an attempt to live, you see
I’m conducting an experiment in living.

The book also contains three short stories, all very different, memoirs, photos, and many many essays and reportage.  All of the work seems to bisect at that point where external place meets internal perception – a common theme that runs through the book.  Whether exploring New Zealand literature of the nineteen century, New Zealand wild food, the experience of a New Zealander in Iceland, or a poetic exploration of the relationship between man and eel, the work in this book continues to throw the reader back onto what it means to be part of a place and not part of it.  I could probably write a review of every single piece in this book, but this review would be as long as the book itself.  Suffice to say that the variety of forms, themes, imagery and styles makes for an evocative, entertaining, and multifarious reading experience that will keep readers awake for many nights.

If you’d like a taste, you can download a free 61 page .pdf of ‘volume 2’ – the bonus issue, here: http://www.midlandtypesetters.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Griffith-REVIEW-Pacific-Highways-Volume-2.pdf

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com