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Monday, 23 January 2012

Trade in fiction

This summer holiday I have had the pleasure of doing a little more reading than usual.   I was given a new New Zealand novel (2011) at Christmas called Wulf by Hamish Clayton and subsequently I have begun reading David Mitchell's 2010 novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Both are historical novels - the former set in the early 1830s as the tangata whenua (Maori people) began to meet and interact with European visitors.   While the novel's central focus is the Maori chief Te Rauparaha,  it also explores the role the brig Elizabeth played in the massacre of Maori by Te Rauparaha and his followers on Banks Peninsula.   The raiding party were transported to the South Island in return for a load of flax - in other words trade was at the centre of the transaction. On p.94 we read a canny assessment by a Maori commentator: 'These spirits (Europeans) have hearts made of trade and iron.   For pigs' meat they'll pay tobacco, rum, and blankets.   For flax they'll pay muskets.  Trade with them and you'll become a great chief...'

The first part of  David Mitchell's novel is located on the 'island' of Dejima in the city of Nagasaki, Japan in 1799.   The raison d'etre for this artificial island and community is the trade  between the Dutch East Indies Company and the Japanese.   Once again trade is a central thread: 'Vorstenbosch unlocks his desk and takes out a bar of Japanese copper. 'The world's reddest, its richest in gold and, for a hundred years the bride for whom we Dutch have danced in Nagasaki.'' p.34.   The Company needs to increase its trade otherwise the settlement in Batavia will fail and likely will be taken over by Britain.  

Both novels give fascinating insights into the role played by trading activities - both historically as in these novels but also in our 21st century global environment when we reflect on the reasons why certain events have happened or why this or that international trade decision was taken.

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