Saturday, June 27, 2009


Here in New Zealand we seem to be on a roll with remarkable first novels, mosty from women writers.
In the past 12 months we have seen, amomg others, Misconduct by Bridget van der Zijpp, The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, Butterscotch by Lyn Loates, and now the latest, being published this coming week, As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong.

I have just finished the last-mentioned, read in three long sittings, and I must say I am feeling somewhat devastated. While this historical novel (early 20th century) deals with racisim, sexism and cross-cultural issues it is above all else a love story. A love story superbly told, a love story that caused me grief, an utterly beautiful, totally compelling love story which as you follow it you sense it's failure is inevitable. Gut-wrenching, distressing stuff and I know it will be a long time before I will be able to let go of the two protagonists.
Set from the late nineteenth century to the 1920s, from Kwangtung, China to Wellington and Dunedin and the battlefields of the Western Front — this is the story of two families.
Yung faces a new land that does not welcome the Chinese. Alone, Katherine struggles to raise her children and find her place in the world.
In a climate of hostility towards the foreign newcomers, Katherine and Yung embark on the love affair mentioned above.
Geoff Walker, Publishing Director of Penguin Group (NZ), clearly delighted to be publishing this first novel had this to say:
This is one of those very special first novels that comes along only every now and then. We predict that this will be one of the big New Zealand novels of the year. It is written with a poet’s eye for language and is simply a delight to read. This is rich, rewarding fiction of the highest quality.
“It is also about a subject virtually untouched in New Zealand fiction, the plight of the tiny Chinese immigrant community in New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
“Alison has spent many years researching her subject, producing a novel which is quite unique. And it is also a beautifully told love story, which reaches across the racial divide in fascinating ways.”
Raised in Hawke’s Bay and a resident of Titahi Bay, Porirua, Alison Wong is a graduate of Bill Manhire’s Original Composition class at Victoria University and a past recipient of the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago. She is a published poet — Alison’s collection of poetry Cup was shortlisted for the Best First Book for Poetry at the 2007 Montana NZ Book Awards — and this is her first published book of fiction.

International rights and some foreign language editions have already been sold to the UK, Australia, France and parts of Asia. The list of countries that As The Earth Turns Silver will be published in continuously grows as Alison’s London agent Toby Eady gathers great interest in the book from around the world. Eady says: “When the manuscript for As The Earth Turns Silver first came in to my office, I knew I had to go to New Zealand and meet its author. It was one of those special moments when one hears a confident new voice speaking from the very first sentence. Alison has written a truly beautiful book about the sadness of racism and why we allow ourselves to be hurt by love. I have been lucky enough to work with some great writers exploring Chinese culture around the world — Alison Wong is one of those.”
I agree with both the publisher and the literary agent, this is a major piece of wonderfully researched fiction, in Alison Wong we have a major new writer emerging.
I cannot recommend this new book warmly enough. It is a stunner!
And I must not close without applauding the cover design, back and front, by Keely O'Shannessy.Truly impressive.
published by Penguin Group (NZ) on 29 June 2009; $37.00

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome book - read in one sitting. The Wellington setting, and the period were those of my own family. Local history at its besr.