Socialist Review asked writers, campaigners and performers to suggest some of the best discoveries from 2014 – we hope there are good suggestions here for your holiday reading!

Michael Field:

Report on ExperienceOne of New Zealand’s defining books was Report on an Experience, published in 1947, two years after its author, John Mulgan, had killed himself. His World War Two experience had been brutal and pointlessly tragic. Mulgan’s work hinted at another unromantic side to the New Zealand war story that seldom pushed through the repetitive publishing of boy’s only military tales.

While Greece Crete Stalag Dachau: A New Zealand soldier’s encounters with Hitler’s army by Jack Elworthy was cumbersomely titled, its content is a genuine voice of an ordinary bloke caught up in world history. He was a warrant officer who offered the perspective of the servicemen, the reality of a soldier’s life – leavened with dry humour and unofficial rumour. What makes it striking is that Elworthy offered a working-class view of the war. What makes the book striking is the simplicity of the language, recognisable as a New Zealand voice. Elworthy’s honest view of the enemy is striking. “It was funny: one minute earlier I had been going to batter this German’s neck and head to a pulp with a stone; nothing else would satisfy me,” he writes. “But the moment he was no longer a menace but lying, quiet and frightened, with a smashed hand and part of his thigh bone sticking out of his leg, I felt quite sympathetic towards him.” Thoughtful, caring and no slavish follower of orders, Elworthy, who died several years ago, has done New Zealand history a service.

Michael Field’s most recent book is The Catch: How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Ocean (Penguin, 2014). He is the author of the classic Mau: Samoa’s Struggle Against New Zealand Oppression and Black Saturday: New Zealand’s Tragic Blunders in Samoa.

[Read More…]

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