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Lost in Translation: Book review

by's Chris Hooper

Published close to Waitangi Day, this collection of short stories pulls together various writers' reflections on New Zealand life throughout history.

The starting point for each tale is a piece of text or an image that has been misunderstood or mistranslated, which the authors have treated with varying degrees of literalness.

Anthologies are generally a mixed bag (this is no exception), but it's a worthwhile literary exercise, and the short story form is undoubtedly in need of support.

There are two stand-out historical pieces: Pawn Broker, by Eleanor Catton, which evocatively outlines a deception that takes place in heady, gold-rush giddy Hokitika of the 1860s; and George Clarke Junior by Sue Orr, which describes the unpleasant events surrounding the first public hanging in New Zealand, seen through the eyes of a young translator, as the British system of justice was imposed on the new colony.

Both evoke the early, uncertain days of the nation with a sense of immediacy and danger.

Other triumphs are Everything You Hear, by Alice Tawhai, which explores an allegation of paedophilia in a small township, and presents a horrifying event with an almost mythic quality; and The Master Plan by Charlotte Grimshaw, which features characters so involving I wanted it to be spun into a novel.

However, the thematic conceit for these stories ensures that miscommunication, hesitancy, and a lack of understanding become the dominant facets to the national character and Kiwi mindset.

It lends the stories a curious inertia and a passive tone throughout, and I came away feeling that there must be a better way to explore this country and the tales it has to tell.

Rating: 7/10

Lost In Translation: New Zealand Stories
Edited by: Marco Sonzogni
Publisher: Random House NZ
RRP: $34.99
Available: Now!