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Article  •  8 August 2023

 

The New Zealand Popular Penguin Line-up

To celebrate 50 years of publishing in Aotearoa, we are excited to re-issue eleven New Zealand classics in the Popular Penguin format. Have you read them all? 

The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922)

Responsible for the oldest work on our list, Katherine Mansfield remains one of our most famous literary exports. Virginia Woolf once admitted that Mansfield was the only writer she was jealous of, and her pioneering style was consciously adopted by Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood amongst others.

These stories, innovative and perceptive, were written towards the end of Mansfield’s tragically short life. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience — from the vivid, impressionistic evocation of family life in 'At the Bay' to the poignant, miniature masterpiece 'The Garden Party'.

 

Man Alone (1939)

Published six years before his untimely death, Man Alone is John Mulgan’s only novel and yet it became a literary landmark that has haunted New Zealand writing for decades.

Set during the Great Depression, with vivid depictions of the Waterfront dispute, John Mulgan's vision of New Zealand society as detached and unsentimental, with the power to reject and alienate, enriches our understanding of who, and what, we are.

 

Sons for the Return Home (1973)

An instant bestseller and later a successful film, Sons for the Return Home is Albert Wendt’s first novel.

It is the story of a cross-racial romance between a Samoan student at Auckland University, the son of migrant parents, and the daughter of a wealthy palagi family. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature writes that the novel is ‘Hard-hitting in its descriptions of racism, frank in its evocation of youthful sexuality, even-handed but also harsh and tender in its vision of flawed humanity.’

 

Plumb (1978)

Whilst his mystery novel In My Father’s Den was adapted into an award-winning and critically acclaimed film, and Under the Mountain is considered a children’s classic, it is Maurice Gee’s Plumb which, in 2018, fifty New Zealand literary experts voted as the best New Zealand novel of the last fifty years.

The first novel in a trilogy following the lives of a family across three generations, Plumb introduces us to the intolerant, irascible clergyman George Plumb, one of the most memorable characters in New Zealand literature. Half saint, half monster, he is superhuman in his spiritual strength and destructive in his utter self-absorption. What personal price is this man prepared to pay in the pursuit of his conscience, no matter what the consequences are for those he loves?

 

Wild Pork and Watercress (1986)

The perennial chronicler of a particular type of Kiwi identity, towards the end of his life Barry Crump’s New Zealand book sales were estimated at more than a million copies.

Wild Pork and Watercress is perhaps his most well-known title, telling the story of Ricky and his cantankerous Uncle Hec. When social welfare threatens to put Ricky into care, he and his uncle flee into the remote Ureweras. The impassable bush serves up perilous adventures, hunger and wild pigs. Worse still are the authorities, determined to bring the pair to justice. But life on the run also delivers a bond of trust and love.

This beloved novel was eventually developed into the box-office hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

 

Potiki (1986)

In 1975, Patricia Grace became the first female Māori author to have a book published in New Zealand. In 1987, her novel Potiki won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction.

Potiki follows a small coastal community under threat as ruthless developers attempt to buy, bully and coerce them off their land. In this time of fear, confusion and growing anger, the prophet child Tokowaru-i-te-Marama shares his people's struggles against bulldozers and fast money talk.

When dramatic events menace the marae, his grief and rage threaten to burst beyond the confines of his twisted body. His all-seeing eye looks forward to a strange and terrible new dawn. Touching on themes that continue to resonate today, Potiki remains a must-read.

 

 The Whale Rider (1987)

Perhaps the most famous work of one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors, The Whale Rider went on to become an international bestseller as well as an Oscar-nominated film. The book, small but mighty, still manages to pack an emotional punch as it tells the tale of eight-year-old Kahu who craves the love and attention of her grandfather.

He is focused on his duties as chief of their tribe, which claims descent from the legendary "whale rider". In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. Except now there is no male heir—there's only Kahu. Whilst she should be next in line for the title, her grandfather is blinded by tradition and sees no use for a girl. But Kahu will not be ignored.

The East Coast setting is close to Witi’s heart, and it shows. A perfectly realised backdrop to an enchanting and tender story about tradition, family and destiny.

 

Once Were Warriors (1990)

One of the most talked about New Zealand books ever, Alan Duff’s raw portrayal of a culture destroyed by a colonial legacy of disenfranchisement, and a family stuck in a cycle of violence, poverty and neglect, remains as important and heart-rending today as it was in the year it was published.

This frank, hard-hitting and uncompromising novel tells the story of Beth, a woman struggling to keep her family from falling apart amongst the violence of the world which they inhabit.

 

The Denniston Rose (2004)

Amongst New Zealand’s most talented storytellers, Jenny Pattrick has a knack for bringing our country’s history to life, and nowhere is this more apparent than in The Denniston Rose, a number one bestseller which captures the real 19th century community of Denniston.

Into the bleak coal-mining settlement isolated high on a plateau above the West Coast come five-year-old Rose and her mother. No one knows what has driven them there, but most agree the mother must be desperate to choose Denniston; worse, to choose that drunkard Jimmy Cork as bedfellow.

 

The Captive Wife (2005)

Fiona Kidman is known for her accessible prose and intelligent portrayals of the hidden lives of women, and this is on full display in 2005’s The Captive Wife. Based on real events, this prize-winning historical novel is a story of marriage, love and duty.

The year is 1834, and after surviving a four-month kidnapping ordeal, Betty Guard receives a heroine’s welcome in Sydney. However, as rumours regarding her life in captivity begin to spread, Betty must reckon with the truth as she remembers it, and the way society may view it.

 

Mister Pip (2006)

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, Lloyd Jones’ dazzling novel is set on a Pacific Island ravaged by war. It follows Matilda, whose schoolmaster, Mr Watts, is the only white man on Bougainville. By his own admission, he’s not much of a teacher and tries to educate the children by reading them Great Expectations, a welcome distraction from what is happening around them. But the horror of civil war is edging ever closer.

A transcendent story about resilience and the power of stories and imagination.

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