Published: Odyssey Books
Date: December 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: From the author
Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.
Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.
The Settling Earth is a collection of short stories, all linked, vignettes of colonial New Zealand. There are nine stories by Rebecca Burns, the tenth one is by Shelly Davies.
Each story is complete, more or less, in itself. Yet each story carries a kernel of and a link to the previous story. It was so interesting to see what would be the link. It was like a window was opened on a particular event, and then closed. The following story would do the same. The first story opens on the Canterbury Plains, other stories move to Christchurch, then on to Onehunga in the North Island and then Auckland. The final stories bring us back to the homestead on the Canterbury Plains.
A station owner's wife, a station owner, a Maori man, a 'boarding house' girl, a woman who 'cares' for children that are born out of wedlock, a 'boarding house' owner, a mission Bible carrying lady, mothers of children, a ghost, a farm hand and his wife and two step daughters are some of the characters we receive an insight into of what life is like for them in this - to the majority of them - strange new land.
As we see into their lives we are made aware of society and how it operates, its hypocrisy and values. Many have come to New Zealand for a new life and with hope, only to find the reality tough. Women in particular are fragile and vulnerable, often ignorant and too trusting. There is often loneliness and too often pregnancy. Some women are unscrupulous, in a chilling kind of way. It seems there are not that many choices open to women. The 'haves' are contrasted with the 'have nots'.
The men we mostly see are the ones with the power. Colonial New Zealand is mostly a man's world. A couple of the men we are introduced too, are weak bullies, abusive, insensitive and overbearing, prejudiced and unlikeable. Contrasted with them is Haimoana, a maori trader who is an observer of this way of life and his behaviour and beliefs stand out as vastly more preferable.
The writing is excellent, the stories evocative - opening up a time and place in New Zealand colonial history. As a New Zealander I could identify with the settings and 'feel' of the stories, it rings with authenticity.
I would recommend this to any reader who likes historical fiction, or is interested in history. It would also make excellent reading for book clubs. I have placed a recommendation to my local library that they buy it for the library! You never know!