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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 5 (August 1, 1938)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

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Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

After eighteen years “The Story of a New Zealand River” (Jane Mander) has been reprinted. It is certainly one of the strongest, if not the strongest New Zealand novel yet penned. As an intensive study of emotions it completely overshadows many modern day novels. As a faithful picture of the New Zealand countryside and of the men, women and manners of the period, it is undoubtedly the finest work of fiction we have.

Briefly the story concerns a full-blooded pioneer who carves a home and fortune out of the wild bush up north. He takes with him there a beautiful wife, but the pair are woefully ill-suited in temperament. The foreman, an ex-doctor, makes the other corner of the eternal triangle. In the background runs the oftentimes sombre waters of the New Zealand river. At times it flows quietly and then at full flood—just like the passions of the two men and woman.

The plot develops boldly, but obviously the book is not one for young people. It is a wonderful story. Whitcombe & Tombs are the publishers.

* * *

“Art in New Zealand's” seventh annual poem competition was won by Miss Helen Brookfield. The entries of J. R. Hervey, Douglas Stewart and Miss Paula Hanger were highly commended. In discussing the competition in the latest issue of the quarterly the editor states that although it unearthed no new talent of real significance there were one or two entries, from writers hitherto not known to him, which showed interesting originality. The winning poem which, as the editor states, is “delicately and poetically handled,” is printed in the issue under notice. On the artistic side in the same number prominence is given in colour and black and white plates to the work of R. N. Field, A.R.C.A., and there is also an appreciation of his work by W. H. Allen.


“Marsden of Maoriland,” by A. H. Reed (A. H. & A. W. Reed, Dunedin) is to my mind one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting of the several books written on the famous missioner. Most of the earlier Marsden books are too much of the dry historical documentary style. In Mr. Reed's book we have an easy running narrative—interesting as a novel. And what a hero to work on, a hero whom the author names “Greatheart.”

There are some fine descriptive passages in the book. The first two chapters, giving a picture of New Zealand before the arrival of Marsden, make an admirable essay complete in itself. Then we come to that historical Christmas of 1814 when Samuel Marsden first set foot in New Zealand to spend the night on the beach with savages who had but a few years earlier killed and eaten the crew and passengers of the “Boyd.” Marsden displayed the same courage when in the years that followed he faced many more dangers. Subsequently he crossed the Tasman seven times, and here are introduced into the story interesting pictures of
A bookplate designed by J. M. Thomasson of Christchurch.

A bookplate designed by J. M. Thomasson of Christchurch.

early Australia. Marsden's last visit to New Zealand at the age of seventy-two is graphically described and finally his return to Australia and his death there just a century ago. This book will have a big appeal to the general reader. It is illustrated and there is a foreword by the late Bishop of Waiapu.

* * *

“Robert Maunsell, LL.D., a New Zealand Pioneer,” by Henry E. R. L. Wily and Herbert Maunsell (A. H. & A. W. Reed) is another important addition to the historical library of this country. Archdeacon Maunsell was evidently a man of character and because of his modesty and reticence little has been known of his work. This hardy pioneer missionary was the seventh son of a prominent Irish family and after a brilliant period at Dublin University became a minister, and was later sent to New Zealand, where he arrived in 1834. The compilers of the work are well qualified to present the life story of this outstanding missioner. Henry Wily lived in the Maunsell country, near the Waikato, all his life, and Herbert Maunsell is the Archdeacon's sole surviving son. From records and letters a most interesting story is told of the hardships and dangers encountered by the missionary and his wife and family. For five years they lived in native huts and when the family did move into a comfortable wooden home the place was burned to the ground and precious manuscripts destroyed. Of particular interest are the letters of the missionary's first wife. They are full of intimate details of the life of the period. The book is almost free from controversial matter, a gratifying feature where early missionary work is concerned. It is illustrated and contains an appreciative foreword from Bishop Sprott. The first edition is limited to 500 signed and numbered copies.

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“Harpoons Ahoy,” by Will Lawson (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) reveals the New Zealand poet novelist right in his element, for if anybody ever loved the sea Will Lawson does. This book is written in the style of a novel and yet is largely built on fact.

Most of the stirring happenings related therein were told to the author by the late Captain McKillop, the last of the old-time whalers. Through the art of the author we tread once more the decks of those staunch old whaling vessels and get a full measure of the thrill of the chase. Often we meet danger, sometimes disaster—even to boats being smashed to matchwood by angry whales or men swallowed by the monsters. Strange tales are also told by the hard old sea dogs as they gather round after the chase is over to spin yarns over a tot of rum. No more interesting book has ever been written by the popular Will. “Harpoons Ahoy” should have a big sale in this country.

* * *

Dale Carnegie, who has such a vogue in America these days has written two books of potted biographies, “Little Known Facts About Well-known People,” and “Five Minute Biographies.” Messrs. Angus & Robertson (Sydney) have secured the Australian and New Zealand rights for both volumes. “Little Known Facts” deals with people as far apart as Einstein and Cleopatra on the one hand and Garbo and Ghandi on the other. This cute Yankee writer is always interesting and always picturesque. I am afraid though that some of the more famous subjects from history would be turning over in their graves for all eternity if they saw themselves decked out in the verbal catherine wheels of this Mr. Carnegie. Dumas was “a fat, flashily-dressed giant who went in for girls in a big way,” Einstein “has become as famous as Jack Dempsey”; Cleopatra, when she danced in front of Caesar (“fifty-four and bald-headed”) might have caused him to say “Oo, la, la, how long has this been going on?” This just gives you a faint idea of the author's style but he is certainly very entertaining. The “Five Minute Biographies” consist of another series of purple patches about such people as Ziegfeld, Caruso, Mussolini, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Basil Zaharoff, and Billy Sunday. Dale gives us a new slant on Byron—“in order to remain slender and lovable he endured a diet so fantastic that it has never even hit Hollywood.” These two books will go down with the average reader.

* * *

“Death In The Morning,” by Harry Hodge (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is an Australian thriller with an unusual plot. A strange disease causes the sheep of the Commonwealth to die in their tens of thousands. A professor who has developed a serum to fight the scourage is murdered. A parasitic growth menaces the New South Wales wheat belt and a plant disease expert who sets out to fight the disease, is also murdered. Briefly, these are the ingredients of the plot. Add a dash of romance and humour and there is enough in the novel to pass away a couple of winter evenings.

“Savages In Serge,” by J. G. Hides (Angus & Robertson, Sydney) is an intensely interesting story of Papua and the punitive expeditions and hunting raids of the Papuan Constabulary. The book has a good literary touch, giving us vivid pictures of the wilds of Papua, the character of the native police (“the savages in serge”) and exciting accounts of the hunting and capture of murderous cannibals. We are left with an appreciation of the loyalty, discipline and thoroughness of the coloured constabulary. Jack Hides knows his New Guinea and its natives better possibly than any man living. This, coupled with his love for his job and a fine descriptive pen, has made the book an outstanding one. He is in charge of the patrols in some of the wildest parts of Papua, their duty being to hunt down those natives responsible for bloodthirsty and cannibalistic raids which are described without any beg pardons. The book contains most interesting photographic reproductions.

Note: Since writing the above, word has come through of the death in Australia of Mr. Hides.—“S.B.”

Shibli Listens In.

Beau Shiel's “Caesar of the Skies,” a thrilling story of the life of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, has sold so well that New Zealand booksellers have been out of supplies for several weeks. A further edition has now arrived from England.

After ten years, “All About Books,” a monthly literary journal published by D. W. Thorpe, Melbourne, has ceased publication.

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