I’ve been enjoying a book that an old friend gave me for Christmas. This Is Us: New Zealanders in Our Own Words was written (or perhaps I should say compiled) by Pete Carter, whom I’d never heard of, and was inspired by the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings.
It might seem downright perverse to say I’m enjoying a book inspired by one of the darkest events in our history, but it isn’t about the shootings. Rather, it was written as a reaction to them. The title is a play on Jacinda Ardern’s famous comment in which she said of the victims, “They are us” – three words that encapsulated the ideal of a culturally diverse and inclusive New Zealand.
Carter took that as a cue to interview 200 New Zealanders about their lives. The resulting book is a resounding affirmation of the values and qualities that make this one of the world’s most tolerant, civilised and liberal (in the classical sense) societies.
This Is Us thus serves as a potent antidote not just to the poisonous ideology that motivated Brenton Tarrant, but also to the shrill, embittered disciples of wokeness – and their many supporters in the media – who condemn New Zealand as hateful, bigoted and oppressive.
Carter’s interview subjects represent a snapshot of contemporary New Zealand. The book touches almost every point on the demographic spectrum: white and coloured, young and old, urban and rural, blue-collar battlers and prosperous blue-bloods, New Zealand-born and recently arrived. There are shearers, schoolkids, checkout operators, butchers, tattooists, ski instructors, solo mums, hairdressers, artists, winemakers, hospitality workers, nurses, cops, road workers, bus drivers, ex-cons and bank managers.
Refreshingly, only two or three of the interview subjects could be described as famous. Most are unknown and all are identified only by their first names. The Usual Suspects - the wearisomely familiar people who normally dominate the public conversation - are conspicuous by their absence, and the book is all the better for it.
The interviews are short, mostly taking up only half a page and each accompanied by a photo of the interviewee. They are engagingly frank and idiosyncratic, touching on everything from jobs and careers to sport, religion, mental health, family history and relationships. All the subjects have interesting stories to tell.
This Is Us is not a whitewash. As Carter notes in his introduction, there is racism in New Zealand (undoubtedly, but it doesn’t define us). Mental illness is a problem, he says, and there are too many have-nots.
But if there’s a unifying theme running through the interviews, it’s one of positivity and optimism. Whether they were born here or arrived as immigrants, the interviewees convey a powerful feeling that New Zealand is a good place to be. I defy anyone to read it and not feel the same.
Perhaps this explains why I’ve seen very little publicity about this book, and no reviews. It’s far too much at odds with the relentlessly negative, self-flagellating message promoted by woke ideologues and pushed daily by their hand-wringing accomplices in the media.
■ This Is Us: New Zealanders in Our Own Words is published by Exisle Publishing and is widely available for $39.99. I heartily recommend it.