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Rogered and Ruthanised

Chris Moore checks out the latest local non-fiction releases.

5Books

Speak softly but carry a big stick. Andrew Dean has obviously taken this advice to heart in Ruth, Roger and Me: Debts and Legacies (Bridget Williams Books, $14.99). It might be a small book but it’s one that carries the weight of recent New Zealand history as a young Kiwi explores the reality of living and working in the cold shadow of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson’s monetary and social reforms of the 1990s. Dean’s quiet, almost clinical approach to his subject adds to the impact of a powerful j’accuse. It might not resonate with monetarists, but everyone else should read it.

The paperback reissue of Dark Journey (HarperCollins, $39.99), Glyn Harper’s account of the New Zealand experience on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918, provides the opportunity to revisit his magisterial description of the brutal awfulness of life and death on the battlefields of Passchendaele and the Somme. The book is a towering achievement of both research and writing. It’s also a work that sets an academic benchmark for all war histories – and one that reflects the still painful memory of the horror that was World War I.

Christchurch author Peter Cox visits another, later battlefield in Desert War: The Battle of Sidi Rezegh (Exisle, $34.99). In November 1941, 20,000 New Zealand troops were involved in a bitter, intense campaign in the Libyan Desert. A bleak, stony ridge called Sidi Rezegh epitomises stubborn courage in a battle that saw the death of 900 New Zealanders. As part of the Anzac Battle series, Cox’s account is a lucid, well-researched study of the conflict and those who fought in it – including his father. He succeeds in transforming a single place name into a vivid part of New Zealand history.

Hec Busby is a member of an exclusive and uniquely New Zealand club. The master waka builder, celestial navigator and respected Te Rarawa elder is the subject of Jeff Evans’ biography, Heke-nuku-mai-nga-iwi Busby: Not Here by Chance (Huia, $45). Busby’s lineage and mana have seen him become an expert on Polynesian navigation, especially the canoe voyages across the Pacific. The book portrays a strong, uncompromising man, an elder whose words are highly respected in the Northland community. But Busby’s contribution to our awareness of New Zealand’s culture spreads beyond the region.

It could so easily have become yet another heart-warming friendship book. But, much to my pleasant surprise, Changing Lives (Bateman, $39.99) is more than literary comfort food. Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey’s letters have already featured in three previous books and a regular magazine column. In this new release, there’s every sign that this is a correspondence that has come of age as their lives – and the surrounding world – change dramatically and in unimagined ways. Here’s evidence that the simple act of writing a letter can still clearly reflect both individual personality and a challenging world.

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