Book review: Home: New Writing edited by Thom Conroy

Home: New Writing

Edited by Thom Conroy

Massey University Press, $40

Editor Thom Conroy begins this anthology, Home: New Writing, by noting in his introduction that "home" has been in the news a lot lately: "From… news of New Zealanders living in their cars, to the crashing of the Canadian immigration site following the US election".

The most interesting of the 22 essays in this collection are those that address these darker sides of home and homelessness.

As with any anthology, there are hits and misses. Most writers cover the types of ideas you would imagine: home as a place of belonging, where your loved ones are, and how that sense of belonging can be split by migrating to a new part of the world. The definition of home that most struck me was in Returning places by James George: "Each of us has or had or wishes we had our own distinct meeting point between Papatuanuku, the earth mother, and Rangi-nui, the sky father."

The essays in Home open strongly with To tatau or not to tatau? That is the 'afakasi diasporic question by Selina Tusitala Marsh. Marsh writes of a sense of home that is embodied in the literal sense: ink on the skin (tatau is the ancient Samoan art of tattoo; to be 'afakasi is to have one Samoan and one white parent). "Am I Samoan if I wasn't born there… ? The answer, as well as why it's taken me 20 years to decide, lies under my own skin and beneath epidermal layers of 'afakasi identity politics".

For Anna Gailani, home is tied neither to her ethnic identity nor to any particular place. Now a lecturer at AUT, she left Baghdad as a child when it became too dangerous to stay. Gailani, her mother, and siblings became refugees and ended up spending many years in Athens "in a quicksand of impermanence". Gailani concludes: "home is a but a notion … Home is not something I have lost, for how can I lose what I never had?"

Gina Cole, in her superb essay Na Noqu Bubu, explores one of the darkest sides of home – when violence renders home no longer safe. "My father roared like a lion. My mother screamed… I felt a door slam shut in my heart… I remember the shame and embarrassment of never feeling able to take [my friends] back to my home."

One thing I was expecting from Home – particularly given Conroy's introduction – was an essay on the Auckland housing bubble and consequent homelessness crisis. It's an urgent issue and its absence here felt strange. Otherwise, though, this collection looks at the ancient idea of home in a range of new ways; from olfactory investigations in Laurence Fearnley's Sniffing out the neighbourhood: A scent map of home to caring for an autistic child in Helen Lehndorf's The sensory seekerHome is the first in what is to be an annual collection of essays from Massey University Press. I'll be on the look out for more home-grown writing next year.