On Books

A New Year and “A Change of Key”

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.







29 replies »

  1. “Their actions while not excusable, are understandable.” That really resonates with me. And while we sometimes wish to protect people from consequences of their choices, that may defeat their ever learning from them. But understanding, rather than judging, is a different thing altogether. So, good to connect once again and I appreciate the book review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jill, Lovely to see you here again. Your book reviews/adventures sound like they are going to be most interesting. I was pleased to read your review of A Change of Key, and the links gave a great introduction to the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Some of my best travel adventures were had in my own backyard so I’m looking forward to seeing what you find in yours in 2019. Have always enjoyed your book recommendations and this sounds quite up my street. Will have a read.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Welcome back Jill. I’d love to know where you call home now. Still hoping to make at least one more visit to your lovely country if I can pluck up the nerve to fly long-haul again. As another book lover I will look forward to your book reviews. Take care and here’s wishing you a happy and healthy 2019 in your new home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there Jude, A happy and healthy New Year to you, too. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would remember me after so long! It’s lovely to see so many familiar faces popping up here. That long haul flight doesn’t get any easier, does it? Do you have a time-frame in mind for you next visit?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Who could forget your Camino walk? No time frame other than to avoid our winter! Possibly November / December / January which means school holidays in your part of the world. And I would also love to add another visit to NZ.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. G’day Jill. Great to see you back. It sounds as though you and John have had a turbulent year. I’ll be interested to hear where you now call home. We are hoping to visit the family in March. That sounds an interesting book. I’m finding more time to read since I’ve cut my blogging down to about 1 post a week

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pauline, It’s great to be back, thank-you. 2018 was a year of big changes for us that’s for sure. Time was, I thought I’d live my life out in the Bay. But times change, and so have I. Five months, almost since we moved, and neither of us have looked back. We’re very happy in our new community. We’re in an even smaller place: Ōtaki, on the Kāpiti Coast, about an hour’s drive north of Wellington. I’ve got at least one post in mind about the town, or at least the library 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • How interesting for you and such a big change. Pleased to hear it is working out well I’ll look forward to hearing about your new area. A good library is always a bonus. I love our library system here. I’m a library junky….

        Liked by 1 person

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