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Christina Thompson. Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story.

Christina Thompson. Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story. New York. Bloomsbury USA. 2008. 270 pages. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-59691-126-0


In Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, Christina Thompson tiptoes on the boundaries of travelogue, anthropology, and cultural history, but mostly settles on memoir to explore her experiences and research concerning New Zealand. The book begins with Thompson, a student at the University of Melbourne, on vacation in New Zealand where she meets Seven, a hulking but easygoing Maori man she encounters in a bar on her last night in the country. As they begin their friendship--fueled by the writer's inquisitive nature concerning both Polynesian culture and the tall, dark man she'd just met--Thompson parallels this first contact with the Maori's first contact with Captain James Cook, an English explorer in the Royal Navy, and the cultural misunderstanding between the two societies.

And this is how the book is structured: Thompson will offer a personal story--the death of an older Maori woman, the birth of her first child, the anxieties of raising American and Maori children in Australia--and will relate it within a historical or cultural context. The technique is effective, and the strongest chapters in the book are "Turton's Land Deeds," "Smoked Heads," and "Hawaiki," where Thompson achieves a perfect balance between the personal and historical as she deals with finding a Maori name for her firstborn that won't be butchered by her American family, the taboo of having a picture of severed and shrunken Maori heads, and the death of her father-in-law and Seven's stoic reaction.

When the book is in perfect stride, it reaches that level where Ryszard Kapuscinski and Joan Didion spent most of their careers; but there are many chapters where the blend between genres is clunky and disjointed, and those parts only offer a superficial glance over personal and historical topics (e.g., in the emotional and factual gaps between Thompson's meeting of Seven and marrying him). Still, without defending the book too much, there is only so much a writer can do when having to cover the scope of New Zealand history and personal history, and in the end Thompson does create a compelling version of her own New Zealand story.

Armando Celayo

University of Oklahoma
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Author:Celayo, Armando
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2009
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