My big fat Greek family reunion

by Catherine Robertson / 17 December, 2015
A nostalgic trip to her mother’s homeland sets a Kiwi woman on a path of discovery.
Indy Fiction

Strong plots: Ray Berard and Maggie Rainey-Smith.

When her mother dies before a trip from New Zealand back to the Greek homeland she left in the 1960s, Artemis decides she’ll go instead and take her mother’s ashes. Artemis, who finds family claustrophobic, is wary of being sucked into the bosom of her Greek relatives, but is also intrigued to uncover the story of her grandmother, and the fate she met during the Greek Civil War. DAUGHTERS OF MESSENE (Makaro Press, $35), by Maggie Rainey-Smith, is a deftly written, moving exploration of female bonds, courage and loss. It portrays modern and past Greece with authenticity and sympathy; the author clearly knows that country well. A pleasure to read.

Randall has an alcoholic, abusive father and a meek, pill-dependent mother, and her only hope of escaping addiction is the kindness shown by her eccentric aunt and uncle. But how long can they continue to protect her? HOW TO GROW AN ADDICT (Toad Ltd, $29.99) is the debut novel of US-born, New Zealand-based author JA Wright, and it starts well, with memorable characters and a confident, amusing voice. The second half loses narra­tive ­impetus, and there’s the distraction of the occasional Kiwi term inserted into a very American tale, but overall it’s a pretty solid first effort.

HUIA SHORT STORIES 11 (Huia, $30) is the latest collection of short stories and novel extracts, in both Maori and English, by contemporary Maori writers. This is a review of only the stories in English, and there are some treats to be had among those. The subjects vary, but all deal with aspects of, mostly modern, Maori life, both the positive and the troubling. The authorial voices and skill levels also vary, but noteworthy English-language contributors include Aimee Tapping, Anya Ngawhare, Helen Waaka, Ann French and K-T Harrison, whose gruelling story, A Picnic with the Bears, is a highlight.

WAITAPU (Escalator Press, $30), by Helen Margaret Waaka, is also presented as a collection of short stories, but as they are interlinked, they build into what feels more like a novel. Waitapu is a fictional rural North Island town, where some characters live contentedly and others can’t wait to escape. Waaka explores small-town living, and what it means to be Maori, with compassion but without glossing over the negatives. Her characters are recognisably real, which means they’re not always sympathetic. Although some of the stories don’t stand on their own as strongly as others, the cumulative effect is highly satisfying.

Attractive young Maori widow Toni Bourke is finally making the bar owned by her late husband financially viable. Then an armed robbery throws her into the path of violent, drug-fuelled gangs and puts her under the scrutiny of both the police and an investigator for an insurance company that will do anything to avoid a payout on the stolen money. The plot of Ray Berard’s INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE (Mary Egan Publishing, $30) is its strong point, with its twists and turns ably controlled. The writing is patchy, but if you’re looking for some hard-boiled action that doesn’t let up, you could do a lot worse.


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