Un­veil­ing tales be­hind the faces

Weekend Herald - - Books -

Adri­enne Jansen has years of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with im­mi­grants new to New Zealand and the is­sues new­com­ers face: the iso­la­tion of liv­ing far from the coun­try and cul­ture of your birth, the loss of fam­ily and friends and all the chal­lenges a new, un­fa­mil­iar life presents. She also pin­points the grat­i­tude of im­mi­grants to be here in a place “so raw, so fresh, so un­clut­tered by his­tory and bul­let holes in walls”.

Among Jansen’s pre­vi­ous writ­ing are the widely read I Have in My Arms Both Ways and the text she pro­vided for The Cres­cent Moon: The Asian Face of Is­lam in New Zealand, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with pho­tog­ra­pher Ans Wes­tra. Most re­cently she co-au­thored Mi­grant Jour­neys: New Zealand Taxi Driv­ers Tell Their Sto­ries.

At a time when is­sues of im­mi­gra­tion, mi­grant rights and in­sti­tu­tional racism make head­lines both here and abroad, a novel that con­nects us with our mi­nor­ity cul­tures is both ed­u­ca­tional and wel­come. What’s more, Jansen has the ear and the eye to present these is­sues in a bright, lively and even quirky tale.

Her cho­sen cast is led by Marko from Bul­garia, a famed con­cert vi­o­lin­ist or pos­si­bly a KGB spy. Tom McNa­mara, jour­nal­ist, is on to the story. Ste­fan, a pi­ano tuner who fled Por­tu­gal af­ter he might have ac­ci­dently killed a man, lives just across the hall from Marko in the in­ner-city block of so­cial hous­ing flats. He now con­tin­ues his pro­fes­sion by cran­ing his cus­tomers’ in­stru­ments up and over the bal­cony and into the tiny in­te­rior of his pokey fourth-floor apart­ment.

Haider, pho­tog­ra­pher, is a trau­ma­tised refugee from Bagh­dad and Nada, a hair­dresser from Ser­bia, with two chil­dren in univer­sity, is still search­ing for a new man. Then there is Har­min­der Singh, ex-ac­coun­tant now driv­ing a taxi and dab­bling in black­mail to sup­ple­ment his sur­vival, and an an­cient Polish sec­ond-hand book­store owner.

The plot thick­ens when a rent rise by the coun­cil sends the whole build­ing into panic and into the hatch­ing of a plan. But un­der­ly­ing the panic and the fear “like graf­fiti painted on the air” and the “des­per­ate si­lence be­hind ev­ery door” flows the mu­sic: Ste­fan’s soft pi­ano play­ing in the night, the muf­fled sound of the vi­o­lin as Marko dares to take bow to strings again, in the tight con­fines of his bath­room.

Jansen takes us on the ride with un­der­stand­ing and just the right amount of hu­mour, so we emerge at the end with re­newed un­der­stand­ing, com­pas­sion and a wish to wel­come.

A CHANGE OF KEY by Adri­enne Jansen (Es­ca­la­tor Press, $28) Re­viewed by Ber­nadette Rae

Adri­enne Jansen.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.