Travel to New Zealand with these five books.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Sitting in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand is made up of two main islands (the North Island and the South Island) and around 600 smaller ones. Its landscape is famous across the world, and was famously immortalised in The Lord of the Rings films directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, and his follow up The Hobbit series.

But JRR Tolkien's novels are not New Zealand's only bookish connection. The country has strong literary traditions, often linked with its Indigenous Maori population. Even if a trip to the country is currently not on your agenda, these five books will give you a glimpse of its rich history and culture. 

Potiki by Patricia Grace (1986)

Patricia Grace is one of New Zealand's most famous writers, and is often described as a figurehead of modern Indigenous literature. Her short story collection, Waiariki, became the first published book by a Maori woman on its release in 1975.

Potiki, originally published in 1986 and published in a Penguin Modern Classics’ edition this year, is set on the remote coast of New Zealand, where a small Maori community lives, works, fishes and tells stories of its ancestors. But change is coming in the form of men with money and big plans to develop the area for tourism, and the community must unite in a battle for survival.

Potiki won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction in 1987, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001. 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013)

Eleanor Catton's second novel, set in New Zealand's South Island in 1866, is a big book, clocking in at over 800 pages. But it doesn't feel big, with its captivating story of prospector Walter Moody, who travels to the West Coast settlement of Hokitika to try to make his fortune on nearby goldfields. But instead, Walter is drawn into a complex mystery that is covering up a series of unsolved crimes.

The Luminaries won the Booker Prize in 2013, and in doing so made Catton the youngest winner in the prize's history, at just 28. It's a record she still holds today.

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (2007)

Katherine Mansfield is among New Zealand's most famous writers, and was a friend of authors including Virginia Woolf, who she met after she moved to London aged 19. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1917 and died aged just 34 in 1923. But her work has lived on, and continues to be popular.

The title story in this collection was written in 1922 and first published in three parts in a newspaper. Many of the 15 short stories in The Garden Party and Other Stories are set in the author's native New Zealand, while others take place in England and the French Riviera. 

Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (2020)

In Aroha – the ancient Maori word and way of thinking means love, compassion, respect and empathy – Maori psychiatrist Dr Hinemoa Elder explores how the concept could help us all every day.

The book is based around 52 whatatauki (traditional Maori life lessons), which are arranged into four chapters: Manaakitanga (kindness), Kaitiakitanga (love for our world), Whanaungatanga (empathy), and Tino rangatiratanga (what is right).

Aroha is not only a great introduction to Maori culture and values, but in a year of upheaval is also a valuable look at contentment and kindness.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme (1983)

The central character of The Bone People is Kerewin Homes, a part Maori, part European artist who is estranged from her art and in exile from her family. Living in a tower on the sea, her solitude is broken one day by a speechless boy named Simon. As Kerewin gets to know the boy, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck.

The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985, making Keri Hulme the first New Zealander to do so (Catton is the second).

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