Elspeth let us in on her reading habits in the lead up to our launch for her new book, A Communist In The Family: Searching For Rewi Alley (Otago University Press), 6-7:30pm Wednesday 24 July 2019. All welcome.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley is a beautifully written multi-layered narrative centred on New Zealander Rewi Alley and his part in the momentous political events of mid-twentieth-century China. Part-biography, part-travel journal, part-literary commentary, A Communist in the Family brings together Alley’s story and that of his author cousin, Elspeth Sandys.
In 2017, Sandys travelled to China with other family members to mark the ninetieth anniversary of Rewi’s arrival in Shanghai in 1927. One strand of this book follows that journey and charts Sandys’ impressions of modern China. Another tells the story of Rewi’s early life, in an insightful meditation on the complex and always elusive relationship between memory and writing.
By placing the man, Rewi, and his work in the context of his time, Sandys is able to illuminate the life of this extraordinary New Zealander in a way that is both historically vivid and relevant to the world of today. Her focus on the role poetry played in his life – both his own and that of the Chinese poets he translated so prolifically – provides moving glimpses of the man behind the myth.
Threaded through A Communist in the Family are Sandys’ evolving insights into a nation that looms ever larger in the day-to-day realities of New Zealand and the world. The strange – and strangely intimate – link between the two countries Rewi regarded as home is one in which he played, and continues to play, a crucial role.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elspeth Sandys has published nine novels, two collections of short stories and two memoirs. She has written extensively for the BBC and for RNZ as well as for TV and film. Her stage plays have been produced in the UK, the US and New Zealand. Elspeth lived for many years in the UK but has been back in her home country of New Zealand since 1990.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I’m reading two books at the moment, one fiction and one non fiction. The non fiction – China in Ten Words by Yu Hua – is a direct result of my own writing about China. People keep lending me marvelous books to read! I always read fiction before I go sleep – currently it’s Jonathan Coe’s Middle England. Coe’s work, which I’m new to, was recommended to me by a friend.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
It sounds pretentious but if I could only take one writer’s books with me to a desert island it would be Tolstoy. The range, depth and passion of his work is matched only by Shakespeare. Running him a close second is George Eliot whose works I love because of their social and political awareness and her compassionate humanitarianism. Discovering recently that I am distantly related to her on my birth father’s side of the family was like winning a secret literary prize! My favorite contemporary writer is Julian Barnes – he seems to me to speak for my generation more profoundly than anyone else. I also love the Irish writers Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry. They tell sad stories so beautifully. My favorite Australian writers are Tim Winton and Patrick White. I love their books for their brave use of language, the scope of the stories they tell and because they seem to capture something essential about Australia.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Next to Nature, Art by Penelope Lively.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
Michale Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Because it seems to me to accommodate every kind of love – passionate love, maternal love, love of country, friendship.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Dorothea in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
The rest of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Proust. I’ve read book One!
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
If I can have both living and dead writers I would have George Eliot, Julian Barnes and Tim Winton.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
Something involving couscous with pears in red wine to follow.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
In alphabetical order with NZ books in a separate place.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’ – Robert Louis Stevenson.