Top 10 New Zealand Books for International Students to Read

Thursday, January 24, 2019

These are our recommendations for Kiwi books to read – our pick of a great bunch of New Zealand writers whose stories give you more of a sense of the Kiwi style of writing or about New Zealand’s history, place, traditions and people.

1. The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton - 2013)

A sprawling novel full of complex character connections and a 19th century New Zealand setting. Catton’s book is a mystery that increasingly picks up in pace as the pages turn and the chapters shorten. Main character Walter Moody has come to New Zealand to seek his fortune in the goldfields, you will find your fortune by solving the abundance of clues Catton has provided throughout this 800-page, Man Booker prize winning, novel.

2. Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones – 2006)
Told by young main character Matilda, this story is set in the village of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. It is a story about a school set-up by the only white man on the island, Mr Watts, and his unorthodox method of teaching the children by reading them Charles Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. Matilda and the other children identify with Pip, a character in the novel, and his adventures provide them with an escape from the rebels as the rebels invade the village.

3. My Name was Judas (C.K Stead – 2006)
This New Zealand author reimagines the infamous biblical character’s upbringing and tells Judas’s version of events in the lead-up to the betrayal of Jesus Christ, in this fictional take on one of Christianity’s greatest tales. You can also listen to the whole book in a 13 part audiobook online here.

4. An Angel at My Table, full autobiography collecting parts 1-3 (Janet Frame, introduced by Jane Campion – 2000)
A truly remarkable life is remembered by the author in three parts, all collected into one book. It’s a story of being poor, dealing with loss, mental institutions and student life. It’s also a tale of how writing, and how well-known Kiwi writer Frank Sargeson, literally saved Frame’s life.

5. The Vintner’s Luck (Elizabeth Knox – 1999)

An angel and a winemaker’s meeting makes for a memorable an unorthodox love story between mortal and immortal beings. Once every year they see each other, and each chapter summarises their meetings. The book can be found on meBooks (NZ ebooks), or the Victoria University Wellington press shop.

6. Potiki (Patricia Grace – 1987)

Patricia Grace explores how cultural differences can affect people in this novel, set in a Māori community on the coast of New Zealand. ‘Potiki’ means ‘the last-born’, ‘youngest child’ or ‘baby’ of the family.

7. The Bone People (Keri Hulme – 1984)
New Zealand’s only other Man Booker prize winning book, Keri Hulme’s novel tells the stories of three key characters; Kerewin Holmes (part Māori, part European and a struggling artist), speechless Simon and Joe, Simon’s Māori foster father.

8. Plumb (Maurice Gee – 1978)

Touted as New Zealand’s best novel of the past 50 years, Maurice Gee’s masterwork and tribute to his grandfather remains a poignant and remarkable study of character with a quintessentially New Zealand setting. The novel’s main character is George Plumb, and the book is told entirely through his eyes and using his ideals.

9. Pounamu Pounamu (Witi Ihimaera - 1972)

Memorable short stories that shaped some of Ihimaera’s future novels are written in this collection. It was the first work of fiction to be published by a Māori writer, and the first collection of short stories with a focus on Māori culture. The 40th edition was released in 2012, including authors notes from Ihimaera on what it was like writing and launching the book as a young man in the early 70’s.

10. The Garden Party and Other Stories (Katherine Mansfield – 1945)
Arguably still New Zealand’s most famous short story writer, despite being born over a century ago, Katherine Mansfield’s collection of short stories captures Kiwi life and its people perfectly. The stories include; At the Bay, The Garden Party, The Daughters of the Late Colonel, The Voyage and many more… The book can be found in the New Zealand electronic text collection.

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