Hello and Happy New Year!
I’m back in the blogosphere with a plan to keep it simple. To take my time, to warm up slowly.
There likely won’t be any travel posts, not for a while. There are no travel adventures planned for 2019. But all going well 2020 will be a different story. This year, 2019, there could be some posts introducing my new hometown—I’ll think about that.
What there will be is a post once a month, at least, about the books I’m reading. Books being what they are: a chance to experience other lives, visit other places and different times; who knows where this might lead.
My first book for 2019 is A Change Of Key, by New Zealand writer Adrienne Jansen. It tells the story of a group of recent immigrants living in a block of council flats. Jansen is a writer known for her work amongst immigrant communities in New Zealand, work which informs much of her writing. A Change of Key is a sequel to an earlier book The Score, which I read a few years ago, and which I thought provided a unique and revealing insight into the lives of people who have recently arrived in this country.
Although the setting could be anywhere, the descriptions for me evoke Wellington, our capital. It’s a city for book lovers, and Marko, the protagonist, is a book lover; a book hoarder, in fact. He frequents a second-hand bookshop that reminded me in some ways of a favourite of mine.
The cast of characters include Marko, a violinist from Bulgaria; Stefan, a piano restorer and tuner from Portugal; Veronica, from the Sudan; Nada, from Serbia; Singh, a taxi-driver from the Punjab. They’ve all left something or someone behind, they’re all wounded by life, all attempting to make the best of things, somehow, in a new and strange and at times inhospitable country.
Theirs is a day to day existence, one where setbacks can seem monumental, insurmountable even, if they do not find a way to work together. Adrienne Jansen shows they’re not so different from those who have a more advantaged life. Their concerns are the same, they want jobs with a living wage, they seek respect and privacy, they worry for their families, they want the freedoms so many take for granted.
The book turns on the mystery of Marko’s past and how he deals with the threat of exposure. It’s an enjoyable read. Through evocative attention to detail it transported me into different lives and different struggles and yet reminded me we are all more similar than different. As Marko observes “people are the same everywhere”; a universal truth which speaks to my own life experiences.
Music is a key theme. In a radio interview (see link below) Adrienne Jansen discusses her love of music and of the violin in particular. It shows in the careful descriptions of the violinist, the way he makes his music. It’s visceral for him, as it is for most musicians, I think.
The thing which stands out for me in this book is the way the characters are treated with compassion, including those who are cruel. Their actions, while not excusable, are understandable. This is a book which quietly and gently challenges the othering of those who are different. In that respect it reminded me of another great book about the situation of immigrants: Go Went Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck, which explores the situation of African asylum seekers in Europe.
A Change of Key is a sequel to The Score, which was published in 2013, but it is a novel which stands alone.
Want to know more? Click here to listen to an interview on Radio New Zealand with Adrienne Jansen.
And here to visit her blog.
So, here’s to 2019, and living compassionately.