On Coming Home is an elegantly-written and deeply moving essay on returning home to New Zealand after almost thirty years abroad, by the award-winning author of Rangitira and Queen of Beauty, Paula Morris.
Morris sifts through time for examples of ex-pat writers and what it meant to them and their work to return home, in order to guide or decode her own experience of coming home. To return home is to be absorbed by the most understanding of folds, but to never quite be like them. A dual sense of return and outcast.
Morris discusses the comments of Frank Sargeson, considered one of the forefathers of New Zealand literature, at length—whether to be a true New Zealand writer, you must write in and about New Zealand (67). Back in the 1930s when it was common for the children of New Zealand’s first European settlers to visit ‘the motherland’ (England), to write as a New Zealander about New Zealand life was new and exciting. This defined New Zealand literature for the next fifty years. But as we move into a time where boundaries of place and culture are blurred, through the ease of travel and technology, this notion is changing. Just as Nigerian writer Ben Okri writes of France and Switzerland in The Age of Magic, so can New Zealanders write, with perception, of cities such as New Orleans, as Morris does in Queen of Beauty.
My favourite thing about this book is the author’s sense of being “mired in nostalgia”; seeing ghosts of times and people past layered over what she sees out the car window as she drives through Auckland in the present.
The final pages are an ode to the city that knows her best, and to the woman no longer in it—her mother.
Disclaimer: Morris is my teacher at the University of Auckland’s Master in Creative Writing.