Friday, April 7, 2017

The Villa at the Edge of the Empire | Fiona Farrell

Although we lived through the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, I've been reluctant to read anything written about them. may it's because we lived through them and feel no need to relive them in literature.
However...I have enjoyed Fiona Farrell's work before, so I picked up this book and set aside my trepidation. I'm glad I did.
Farrell loves the city of Christchurch, whcih was devastated by the earthquake of February 2011. As she knew the city beforehand she has been able to reconstruct the character and heart of the city by using the idea of maps.
She tells the story of the earliest maps made of Christchurch, of a future city to be established on the Canterbury Plains. She then chooses parts of the city and it's geography and maps to take us through the issues of what was there and familiar, what was destroyed and the plans and blueprints being drawn up to make the city anew.
She describes the tensions between wanting a city of the future, without disregarding the heritage and history whcih shaped Christchurch from the start.
Farrell also draws a similar portrait of another town she is familiar with, L'Aquila, which has suffered through many earthquakes. It's not so much as a comparison to Christchurch, but as another example of a community looking to regenerate the place they live in.

This book is brilliant, because it covers a wide range or issues facing cities world-wide, and yet, with feeling and sensitivity explores the real meaning of community, belonging and the love of place.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Perfect Red | Amy Butler Greenfield

Previously I have read Colour: travels through the pain box by Victoria Finlay in which each chapter is dedicated to a short history of the main colours we know today.
I was interested to read A Perfect Red, a more thorough history based on one colour as I found it interesting that  colours have histories very unique to each hue.

Red has  had a checkered past. Pre 1493 it could only be extracted from the madder plant and was quite insipid. The name red was assigned to any hue from light pick to deep burgundy and was highly sought after as it was rare.

With the discovery of the New World the conquistadors encountered the Aztecs and were astonished at the vibrant red they were able to produce from the small bug cochineal. Three hundred years of competition ensued, where the Spanish monopoly in cochineal was attacked by mercenaries, merchants, pirates and royalty.
Europe was taken by storm when guilds began using the small crushed bugs to produce the most vibrant cloth ever to be seen. There was huge secrecy around dyers and their guilds with regard to the use of cochineal on threads and a variety of fabrics. Venetians were famed for their ability to produce rich red velvet.
Laws were enacted to prescribe who could wear red (and other colours) to denote social standing. Colour was a serious business.

Many other fascinating historical facts surround the colour red, and the book is very well researched and written. A great read.

Barkskins | Annie Proulx

It's hard to describe how successful this novel is, given it is a novel about trees, their history and their demise.
Barkskins is Proulx' s latest novel and as with all her others, she is meticulous in her research and in her writing, leaving us with no doubt once again of her enormous talent.

This is a wide sweeping novel which begins in 1600 when Charles Duquet and Rene Sel sail to New France, Canada, in search of better lives. Charles Duke (formerly Duquet) settles into the life of an axe man and soon establishes a huge lumber company. Rene Sel marries a Mi'kmaq woman whose tribe lives in the forests of Canada and are renown as healers and hunters. They are guardians the forest.

The Duke family throughout generations seek out the biggest native forests, buy them and demolish them. Fist in Canada, USA and then Asia and South America. They have total disregard for ecology, environment and the consequences of the devastation they bring.
Meanwhile the Sel family traces it's demise in parallel to the demise of the forest they have lived in for generations and which disappearing. The destiny of both families are intertwined.
The story ends in 2013, with a bit of hope and redemption for both families and hope in the possibility of regenerating some of the forests consumed by the appetite of consumerism.