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Fiction Map of the World – New Zealand

by Travelbag on 16 September 2014, 08:09AM

This week we’re exploring New Zealand, one of the last major landmasses on the planet to be populated and home to the most southerly capital city, Wellington. With its distinctive Maori culture recognisable throughout its artistic history it has a fascinating catalogue of work to enjoy.


Essential Holiday Reading
For holiday reading in New Zealand I'm going to recommend The Bone People by Keri Hulme, winner of the 1985 Booker Prize and another example of a novel turned down by several publishing houses before being accepted and going on to enjoy great success. A story about the turbulent interlocked lives of a young mute boy, his adoptive father and a female hermit it has strong themes of both isolation and love. Focusing on the relationships between the three, both the abuse and love that brings them together it is a fascinating story about their personal journeys and acts as a metaphor for the mixture of cultures within New Zealand. This in turn makes it an excellent and challenging choice for holiday reading.  


Notable Kiwi Books
New Zealand has provided many significant novels of the last century, most recently The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (mentioned previously in the Canada Fiction Map, she is Canadian-born but a New Zealand national) picked up the 2013 Booker Prize, with Catton being the youngest ever recipient and the novel being the longest ever winner. There’s also Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, Faces in the Water by Janet Frame or Season of the Jew by Maurice Shadbolt that show great diversity in the subject matter of New Zealand’s fiction, Season of the Jew in particular being a semi-fictionalised historical novel about a famous Maori leader, Te Kooti. If you’re more of a supernatural fan you could try The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy, or The Changeover, also by Margaret Mahy, is an excellent choice in the young adult area. As we’re beginning to see, once you scratch beneath the surface there is great variation and depth of quality in many countries’ literary history, and New Zealand is no different.   


Notable Kiwi Authors
New Zealand boasts some critically acclaimed authors, with the previously mentioned Keri Hulme and Eleanor Catton both being Booker Prize winning authors. Alongside these two there’s the Maori writer Witi Ihimaera (The Whale Rider) and the prolific Joe Bennett (A Land of Two Halves), renowned for being an experienced hitchhiker. Going further back there’s the short fiction writer Katherine Mansfield, friend and contemporary of modernist writers such as D.H Lawrence and Virgina Woolf. One of the ‘Queens of Crime’, alongside Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers is New Zealander Ngaio Marsh, author of 32 crime novels involving the detective Roderick Alleyn. For the younger readers there is multi-award winning Brian L. Falkner (The Tomorrow Code, Brain Jack), showing that fiction of New Zealand caters to all ages.


Notable Films in New Zealand
Perhaps best known for its fantastic locations, most famously depicted in the Lord of the Rings films, there are many excellent films made by New Zealanders too. The Piano, released in 1993, won three Academy Awards. Set in 19th century New Zealand it was directed and written by Jane Campion, one of only four women to ever be nominated for the Best Director Academy Award, she is also the only woman to receive the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Based on the novel by Alan Duff, Once Were Warriors is a brutal depiction of a Maori family’s struggles with poverty, alcoholism and violence. It is often mentioned as being one of the, if not thé best film to ever come out of New Zealand. Other films mentioned in this discussion would include Heavenly Creatures (directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame), Sleeping Dogs starring Sam Neil (Jurassic Park) and the classic road move Goodbye Pork Pie, noted as being the first commercially successful New Zealand film worldwide.With the New Zealand Film Commission promoting and supporting cinema within the country it’s likely that critically acclaimed films will continue to be produced.


Essential Holiday Listening
For holiday listening I’m going to go with something a little different again and recommend the mixture of classical, pop and Maori songs of Pure by Hayley Westenra. Despite being known in New Zealand at the time, it was the album that launched her career worldwide and enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success. It reached number one in the UK classical albums chart and is still the biggest-selling album in New Zealand by a home-grown artist. Including versions of the Kate Bush hit Wuthering Heights and the perennial classic Amazing Grace and other classical songs it offers a lovely range of compositions with Westenra’s distinctive vocals elevating each and every one. Alongside the strong Maori influence and the traditional songs such as Hine e Hine and Pokarekare Ana it is a perfect album for holiday listening. 


Notable Kiwi Musicians
New Zealand’s traditional music is entrenched in Maori culture like much of its literature and film. Early Maori music was based around micro-tonal chanting and the use of instruments taonga puoro that are made of a variety of things from wood to stone and even human bone. These traditional Maori styles and conventions can still be seen in New Zealand’s music today. Exponents would be artists such as Moana and Dalvanius Prime, the latter actually performed at the opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1970. There are many singer-songwriters from New Zealand who have enjoyed popularity across the world, names such as Brooke Fraser, Ladyhawke, Bic Runga and, most recently, Lorde.There are also several popular hip-hop artists such as Savage, Che Fu and King Kapisi showing there is a broad spectrum of talent in the New Zealand music industry. There are also several popular modern composers like Douglas Lilburn and Jock Body who have garnered acclaim beyond the country of their birth. With such diversity in its talent pool New Zealand is likely to continue to offer a significant contribution to world music.

Click here to go back to the Fiction Map of the World

Click here to read more about New Zealand

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