Silvey Chan lives above a shop in Auckland's downtown Chinese district. Hers is a close-knit community with its own traditions and festivals - and even a neighbourhood ghost. New Zealand is at war when Silvey starts her diary, but for Silvey this is just a backdrop to the main issues of her world - the closure of her school and the arrival of Chinese-American soldiers.
Included in the book are archive photographs of Auckland's Chinatown during this period.
Not having grown up in New Zealand I find that the My New Zealand Story series is a great read and really interesting. I was amazed that I could identify some of the places mentioned as the street names or places haven't changed much but the buildings have. The story was to read, it is written like a diary with some days having lots written and some days only a few lines. I managed to read this book in a few hours, I couldn't put it down easily.
Even though I'm not Chinese I didn't grow up in New Zealand but there is no way I could imagine paying a tax to live in a new country and being apart from my children. I also can't imagine what it would have been like to have parents who are wanting to keep old traditions alive and being in a country that is trying to deny those same traditions. I'm glad that the books if fiction but still based on actual events. The author did a fantastic job of researching the events and people and describing events and places long gone. There was a hint of romance and friendship, I did kind of expect to find that things changed over the holidays and friends drifted apart but nothing of the sort. I could tell from the way the story was written that Silvey is Chinese and her friend is not but that didn't seem to stop them from being friends.
I would highly recommend this book to others to read, it makes you think about what is important and to see things from another perspective, not every one is lucky enough to be born in New Zealand and some people have really had to fight for what they have.
This story resonated with me because I am familiar with all the places referred to throughout the book. I lived for some time in Symonds Street, which is within walking distance of Newmarket and Greys Avenue. I had friends who lived in one of the blocks of flats in Greys Avenue and visited there on many occasions, witnessing the gradual "modernisation" of the area. Many of my friends were of Asian heritage; growing up, I was surrounded by families of different origins which inspired a lifelong interest in and respect for different cultural traditions and values. My own family included immigrants on both sides, welcoming the opportunities afforded by a new start in New Zealand, as well as Maori. And I have always been proud of my own mixed heritage.
What I really like about the book is the honesty with which the main character, Silvey, is portrayed. She comes across as a true kiwi - she talks and interacts with her friends just as any NZ pre-teen does, but also contributes the influence her own upbringing has on her world perspective. The back story is well researched, offering a glimpse into wartime Auckland which those who lived at that time will relate to. For that reason, I believe that older people will enjoy this story just as much as a young person coming across it for the first time. Although I am not old enough to remember these days, I do remember older members of my family talking about things like rationing and the arrival of the American troops.
Once I had finished reading the book myself, I asked Miss 12 to give me her opinion on it. I was in the South Island at the time and she lives near Gabriel's Gully in Otago, so she has an interest in the stories of the Chinese gold diggers who came here in the 1860s. She is also fascinated by "real-life" stories of growing up in New Zealand. I asked her if she could read it within three days so I could get her opinion to include in my review. She did better than that - it was returned next day with a request to ask for her feedback any time as she could not put it down!
Miss 12 liked the way that Silvey tells the story in her own words. She appreciated the way that the story was written in diary entries - as she said, it was just like reading someone's online blog, but you could access it offline. A very 21st-century comment, but one that is also very real because kids her age are comfortable with this format and find they respond to it on a personal level. Being the same age as Silvey, Miss 12 also liked the hint that there was a "boyfriend" around: this is also part of her world where there is just a suggestion of the adult self starting to appear. She did not have any problems with the occasional Chinese words as they were explained in context, and most of them were also included in the glossary at the end of the book as well.
Finally, the photographs and historical comments at the end of the book were most interesting. It is a shame the photos could not be enhanced more as they were difficult to see, but given their age this is to be expected. The photograph of the miners at Kyeburn could have been taken anywhere in Otago - I have seen similar prints of miners in Arrowtown and Cromwell, and many other places in this area that I visit frequently. These photos evoke an era which, in retrospect, was harsh; where life was unbelievably challenging. It is amazing to think that anyone survived this lifestyle at all.
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