Michael Bennett’s finely tuned thriller opens with an historical atrocity before moving to a contemporary series of murders. Detective Hana Westerman is caught between being a good cop or a kupapa collaborator, and the cases become frighteningly personal. Excellently paced and populated by complex characters, this intricate novel centres on conflict between utu and on the aroha, hūmarie and manaaki needed to move forward.
JANN MEDLICOTT Acorn PRIZE FOR Fiction
Better the Blood
Kāwai: For Such a Time as This
In senior Māori historian Monty Soutar’s powerful novel we learn histories that transport us across place, time, and generations. We become wrapped in the passion and honour of a mid-18th century ao Māori. Tikanga and mātauranga Māori, rangatiratanga, and love for the whenua and the iwi immerse us; butchery, enslavement, and spiritual curses smash. Mana foments the fires of war. Can later generations reassert balance?
Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant
Based on the true story of an 1866 shipwreck, this re-telling of the endurance of the survivors on a sub-Antarctic island is impeccably researched and peopled by rounded, realistic and complex characters. Dramatic and well paced, it is rich with vivid descriptions of sea, land and weather, and Cristina Sanders offers insight into the physical and psychological effects of being stranded in an inhospitable environment. Historical fiction at its best.
The Axeman’s Carnival
Catherine Chidgey’s novel is a rich mix of humour and tragedy, suspenseful, insightful and compelling. It’s a contemporary down-on-the-failing-farm tale with a highly inventive and entertaining twist: the narrator is a sentient magpie, Tama, who flies from its pages fully formed and loveable. The story unfolds with many laugh-aloud moments coupled with an overriding sense of dread. Chidgey’s writing is masterful, abounding with poetic language and intensely descriptive settings.
MARY AND PETER BIGGS AWARD FOR POETRY
Always Italicise: How to Write While Colonised
Alice Te Punga Somerville’s meticulously crafted collection resonates with aroha, wit, sadness and anger. Advice to “italicise all of the foreign words in her poems” becomes a catalyst to exploring the dynamics of racism, colonisation, and writing in English as a Māori writer. Poems float like gourds strung with musings and personal recounts. English words incline as foreign words, but te reo syllables evade linguistic ambushes, camouflaged soundscapes and erasure. They stand upright, mark Space-Time like pou.
Joanna Cho explores relationships, identity and survival with an aching, ironic honesty. A people person may have a name bought from a fortune-teller, drive battered cars, light up rooms with their hearts, or miss the smell of kawakawa ointment. Cho navigates expectations and choices in imagined and recalled stories, skilfully connecting folklore with autobiographical snapshots from South Korea and Aotearoa. Whimsical, surreal, magical and mundane elements meld and clash in poetic vignettes.
Sedition flows through generations of dis-ease, enlivens tongues stilled by loss and trauma, excavates a genealogy of resistance. It’s a contemplative, defiant collection that resists the commodification of culture and whenua, and the ongoing perversity of neo-colonialism. Poems float upon the notion that we walk into the future facing our past, which embodies and shapes us. Anahera Maire Gildea agitates, untangles and reweaves threads of outrage, dystopia and anguish as she resolutely redraws detrimental power.
We’re All Made of Lightning
Khadro Mohamed’s elegiac collection features a speaker torn between multiple worlds. Pendulating from prose to lyric, it is a ghostly work in which dreams and memory bleed into each other, as do its places: Egypt, Somalia, Newtown and Kilbirnie. Even time becomes concurrent, and for Mohamed, the past is right there in the present. In this collision of languages and worlds, the possibility and impossibility of home is both grieved and celebrated.
BOOKSELLERS AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND AWARD FOR ILLUSTRATED NON-FICTION
Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand
With its distinctive cover, bold typography and risograph hues on uncoated stock, this book demands to be read from page one. Weaving original sources into an engaging narrative, Nick Bollinger has crafted a considered and fitting history. Photographs from private collections add to its rich production, balancing text and illustration in ways that belie its size. Like the period it surveys, Jumping Sundays is a game-changer.
Robin White: Something is Happening Here
This is more than an exhibition turned art book. Stunning reproductions, historical essays and the insights of two dozen contributors do justice to the institution that is Robin White. As iconic screenprints flow seamlessly into large format barkcloth, White’s border-crossing practice is temporally divided with the savvy use of typographic spreads. Space, too, is given to the voices of her Kiribati, Fijian and Tongan collaborators. Strikingly elegant yet comprehensive, excellence is what’s happening here.
Secrets of the Sea: The Story of New Zealand’s Native Sea Creatures
Secrets of the Sea is a treasury of interesting facts, beautiful photography and remarkable prose. Beyond the luscious illustrations is a perfect blend of science, history and mātauranga Māori that gives the text depth and relevance and reveals in fascinating (and urgent) ways the interconnectedness of the human and extra human world. Visually compelling and hugely accessible, this impactful book will delight the marine biologist, sea aficionado and general reader alike.
Te Motunui Epa
Innovative and immensely topical, Te Motunui Epa is a triumph of storytelling and a challenge to the confines of traditional historiography. Rachel Buchanan’s meticulous research and compelling writing is complemented by the very best in graphic design – from its light-catching cover to the black-bordered array of archival documents. Generous while unafraid to confront the colonial hurt at the heart of the story, this is a deceptively powerful and enduring work.
GENERAL NON-FICTION AWARD
A Fire in the Belly of Hineāmaru: A Collection of Narratives about Te Tai Tokerau Tūpuna
An exquisite and innovative book that uses a form of storytelling, pūrākau, to construct further stories that elucidate and challenge. It adds a layer of narrative truth to what we know about Te Tai Tokerau and, more importantly, shifts existing perceptions. It reveals the richness of knowledge in whakapapa which, especially for Te Tai Tokerau rangatahi, will spark significant personal and collective inspiration.
Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay
This beautifully produced and generous book is a fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in small-town colonial New Zealand with its vivid line-up of characters, a revenge plot, blackmail and local Pākehā political intrigue. Alongside gripping, skilled and elegant popular historical storytelling, readers will find well-researched and closely observed insights into aspects of our national character, and our struggles with social decency.
Grand: Becoming my Mother’s Daughter
This memoir presents both a woman confronting her own shame and the shame of generations with visceral honesty. It offers a treatise on forgiveness and a light of hope. Noelle McCarthy’s command of language imbues readers with sight, sound, smell and taste. It is complete as an individual narrative, while the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship and the weight that loads onto the process of knowing oneself offers much to our collective emotional intelligence.
The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi
Ned Fletcher’s extensively researched and meticulously constructed book provides a valuable contribution to scholarship, history and law, and makes a timely and evolved interjection into the conversations of this country. Readers are led to evidenced conclusions via Fletcher’s clear hypotheses, structural commitment to reason and thorough examination of the characters and context involved in the creation of the English text of Aotearoa’s founding document.