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Dear Oliver: Un­cov­er­ing a Pakeha His­tory by Peter Wells re­viewed by Josephine Car­pen­ter, Hawke’s Bay Read­ers and Writ­ers

As we age and the gen­er­a­tion above us passes on we come to re­alise and some­times re­gret that we didn’t ask and lis­ten to their sto­ries — of their child­hood, the chal­lenges of their youth, the re­al­ity of life ‘back in their day’.

Re­spected Napier writer Peter Wells has delved into his fam­ily sto­ries through let­ters kept by his mother, Bess. The Northe fam­ily first came to th­ese shores in 1848 and their lives are wo­ven into the estab­lish­ment and growth of Napier.

“With this book I have made my

Pa¯ keha¯ fam­ily and an­ces­tors into sto­ries,” Peter says.

As a fel­low Pa¯ keha¯ I found much to iden­tify with from my own past such as the mid­dle class snob­bery of grand­moth­ers and their in­sis­tence about eti­quette.

Each chap­ter be­gins with a let­ter and ex­trap­o­lates out be­yond the per­sonal into a so­cial his­tory of the time.

This in­cludes ma­jor events such as the Wars, in­clud­ing the Ma¯ ori Wars and the Napier earth­quake, as well as more do­mes­tic mat­ters such as es­tab­lish­ing busi­nesses and rais­ing chil­dren.

‘Some sto­ries may be true, some may be my own mis­un­der­stand­ing of sto­ries…’

This is a brave book as Peter shares some of his own jour­ney as a gay man and the re­sponses of his fam­ily to this.

The tri­als and tri­umphs of ev­ery­day life through gen­er­a­tions are de­scribed al­ways with Hawke’s Bay, and es­pe­cially Napier, part of the story. It is fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­fully writ­ten.

As Peter states in the af­ter­word of the book: …”it is an at­tempt at telling a story about be­ing Pakeha in Aotearoa New Zealand through time.” Dear Oliver com­pletes a tril­ogy of sto­ries from Napier’s his­tory.

The other his­to­ries are about Wil­liam Colenso and Kere­opa Te Rau.

■ Peter Wells will speak with Eliz­a­beth Smither in a ses­sion at the Read­ers and Writ­ers sec­tion of the Hawkes Bay Arts Fes­ti­val. This ses­sion, Be­tween the Lines, will be held on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 20 at noon at the MTG Cen­tury Theatre in Napier.

Tick­ets $18. Book on­line at www.hbaf.co.nz

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