When Empire Calls by Ken Catran, Scholastic NZ
Not much is known in New Zealand about the Boer Wars. So this book is definitely filling a niche – and supplying easily-understood information about a war that rewarded scores of loyal New Zealand men with disease and death. It’s written from the (adult) point of view of young James McDonald, whose two older brothers sign up in 1899 to fight for Britain against the Boers in Africa. The actual fighting is described by letters to James from his brother, Edward - letters that convey the increasing horrors of the British Empire’s determination to wipe out the Boers and take over their land and mineral resources. Meanwhile James is fighting his own battles at home – mainly with an alcoholic ex-soldier (turned shopkeeper) who is trying to open James’s eyes to the true nature of war.
As always, Ken Catran writes a low-key but totally absorbing story that neatly portrays the attitudes of the time to the aggression of the British Empire. I was interested to read an essay by the author at the end of the story called New Zealand At War – A Personal Perspective. As well as offering an overview of New Zealand’s involvement in overseas and local wars, it also provides the information that 71 New Zealanders died in action in the Boer Wars, with twice that number killed by disease. Most of the Boer fighters were killed, and 100,000 of their family members were rounded up and herded into camps where many of them died of malnutrition and disease. This is a book that should be available in every school and library in the country, and would be of most interest to boys of around 10 to 13.
ISBN 978 1 86943 555 4 RRP $19.50 PbReviewed by Lorraine Orman
The extremely subdued pastel cover picture does not give a good indication of the exciting story that lies inside. It’s the first novel by this author, who has been editing the New Zealand School Journal for the last fifteen years. The story was inspired by her father’s experiences during WWII when he parachuted from his crippled plane into occupied France and was assisted by a local family. The story focuses on Simone, the teenage daughter of a farming family, who discovers an injured New Zealand airman stumbling across the fields. Her family take him in, fix him up with false papers, and plan to help him get to safety. However at the last minute their plans fall through, and Simone and her cousin Claudette have to escort Paul to the local railway station, stay with him during the trip to Paris, and see him handed over to people who will help him cross the border to safety. It’s a suspenseful and nail-biting journey as the little group try to avoid spying locals, suspicious gendarmes, and bullying German soldiers. Best for girls of about 10 to 14 who like devouring stories in one gulp – but you’ll have to persuade them that the story is a lot more riveting than the cover indicates.
ISBN 978 1 86950 934 7 RRP $19.99 PbReviewed by Lorraine Orman