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Far away but not long agoParadise Reforged A History of the New Zealandersby James Belich608pp PenguinSome snapshots from New Zealand in 2002 public disapproval as Prime Minister Helen Clark welcomes the Queen to Government House wearing trousers high popularity ratings for a transsexual small-town MP front-page coverage when a Guardian travel writer declares the country boring heated debate over the plight of asylum-seekers in Australia 247 attention to The Lord of the RingsThe national character seems at once conservative cosmopolitan parochial and intensely proud How New Zealanders became a conflicted race is one of the main explorations of James Belichs comprehensive and exhilarating history his concern is the underexamined people of the often-visited placeBelich has both the broad sweep and the salty detail that bring a thesis to life and the ability to conjure vivid portraits of the most interesting historical players At its best his writing delivers a real emotional charge His books have provided significant reinterpretations of New Zealand history Paradise Reforged and its predecessor companion Making Peoples comprise the largest history of the nation by one authorNew Zealand history makes the wild west look like an old peoples tea party Belich has said and Paradise Reforged backs up this claim observing that the nations development is notable for its speed not length In image-laden energetic prose this history delves wholeheartedly into the lives of its subjects investigating religion class diet popular culture technology and all aspects of the social nuances that forge cultural self-perceptionBelichs central thesis is that rather than undergoing a steadily progressive independence from Britain New Zealand entered a recolonial phase in the 1880s with the launching of refrigerated cargo ships bearing by 1941 500000 tonnes of meat and dairy products to England it operated as a long-distance market town for London and emotional as well as financial ties to Britain were tightened for nearly a centuryRecolonisation brought both benefits and appalling costs The country sent nearly a fifth
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