The declamatory return; a homeland as a “wearying enigma”. This all makes sense to me. The New Zealand that’s home to me may be a place of sheep and rugby and number-eight wire, whatever that is, but it’s also none of those things. Am I still a New Zealander?
Award-winning author Paula Morris‘ 80 page essay On Coming Home explores her own return to New Zealand, articulating questions that have been swirling in my own head since I came back home in December 2014. What does returning to New Zealand mean? Do I belong here? Can I write here? Is there a set of rules to being a New Zealander? To being a New Zealand writer?
When [Janet] Frame decided to return to New Zealand, she recalled the advice of Frank Sargeson. “Remember you’ll never know another country like that when you spent your earliest years. You’ll never be able to write intimately of another country.”
Then, why is it, Frank, or Janet, or Paula, after six months at home, I am still afraid of writing about it?
Even after my second reading of this book, I cannot squash the jealousy I hold for Morris’ ability to make a personal reflection into an essay with worldwide appeal. Linking her experiences to writers of the past who have found themselves in similar states of flux regarding their own sense of belonging gives the book substance far beyond what I had imagined writing myself. Jealousy aside, I recommend this essay to any expat, and particularly expat writers exploring their own sense of belonging.
*BWB texts are “short books on big subjects by New Zealand writers”, available primarily in digital format.