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Homegrown Books: The Story of a New Zealand River

Bronwyn Calder recommends The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander - Random House New Zealand, 2015

Jane Mander (1877-1949) was born in Ramarama (South Auckland). She was a journalist and novelist who studied at Columbia University (USA) and published six novels altogether. The Story of a New Zealand River (first published in 1920) is her most well known.


From time to time we would like to publish recommendations for older New Zealand books, classics of New Zealand literature. This month we start with The Story of a New Zealand River.

Twenty-five years ago this novel gained some notoriety for being the inspiration of Jane Campion's movie The Piano. In my opinion Jane Campion may have got her initial inspiration from the opening situation of this novel, but nothing else is similar.

The story is set in the upper reaches of the Kaipara Harbour near the town of Kaiwaka. It is set at the turn of the twentieth century and depicts the beginnings of the clash between modern ideas and Victorian rectitude. The main character, Alice Roland, made a reckless decision as a young woman that she has allowed to blight her life. Her daughter, Asia, abandons her mother's ideas about how to behave to follow her heart. The novel offers a unique insight into the relationship between mothers and daughters which, as the daughter of a mother and the mother of daughters, I found realistic and heartbreaking.

The novel is frank about women's lives, independence, and sexuality. It is a good read, an engrossing story, and a fascinating portrayal of the men and women who colonised this country.

This book is worth finding.

The Story of a New Zealand River is available in paperback from local bookshops and as an eBook from Amazon.

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