A new novelist, one with significant talent, and of whom I have no doubt we are going to hear a great deal more, has been launched on the New Zealand scene by Penguin Books. Congratulations to Maxine Alterio for a superb historical novel set largely in the goldfield town of Arrowtown during the Otago goldrush of the 1860’s.
Among the many Chinese attracted to the area is Ming Yuet, a young, resourceful Chinese woman who takes on the identity of her brother after he is killed by water pirates while planning to leave China for New Zealand.
She travels to Otago where she lives and works as a man for several years living a tough life as a goldminer in order to send money to back to her family in China. Her secret is known to only a few but eventually she meets Conran, a stonemason from Orkney and so begins a secret love affair which inevitably ends in disaster.
With a strong plot and superbly drawn characters this is a great read, one I found difficult to put down. Goodness knows how much research has gone into this book but the author’s acknowledgements suggest it has been extensive. Her skill in blending factual historical information into her fiction is impressive and gives the story great credibility.
It is a story above all else of love, but it also deals with family tragedy, alienation, hardship, displacement, bigotry, forgiveness and valour. It is a fine first novel that can justifiably be compared to Jenny Patrick’s hugely successful Denniston Rose. I offer my admiration and congratulations to the author.