Helena Drysdale


a family at war, published by Picador 2006 and in paperback 2007


'A tale full of drama and power.' Sunday Times Books of the Year

'Drysdale's concern for Isabella's puzzling fate makes her book read like a novel, gripping you all the more securely because it is true.' Spectator Books of the Year

'A colourful family history and a fascinating account of a little-known slice of British colonialism.' Mail on Sunday

'Not the least of Drysdale's many achievements in this splendid book is to provide a balanced and gripping account of Maori-Pakeha (European) relations in the early days of this historically rich but often overlooked country.' The Independent

'Fascinating: an account of a brave but dysfunctional family's trials and tribulations and the succession of wars and uprisings they were directly or indirectly involved in, first in India and later in New Zealand. Strangerland skilfully goes into the heart of British colonial rule and the problems which led to its inevitable collapse. A story with all the drama, intrigue and repressed passion of a Hardy novel, a strange many-layered story, well told.' Times Literary Supplement

'As the author of four highly praised travel books, Helena Drysdale is ideally suited to tell this powerful piece of family history. She has made a wonderful job of conjuring up the Gascoynes' life in India and the dreary frugality of their years in New Zealand. A stimulating, intelligent and richly evocative book. Spellbinding.' Sunday Times

'Why did everyone turn against Isabella? The mystery, like life itself, adds to the sense of reality found in this wonderful book.' The Spectator

From the first page to the last Strangerland is an extraordinary read. With so much to tell about New Zealand in the mid 1800s, Drysdale’s gripping storyline manages to balance historical detail with a cracking good yarn. Her faithful descriptions of upper-class, crinolined ladies struggling to create a little bit of Britain in an unforgiving environment, the battles between white man and native and the harsh reality of settling in a wild, wet land so far away from the civilized home county, are unforgettable.' The Book Magazine

'The poignant tale of Isabella Gascoyne and her pioneering family, set in its latter half against the background of the Maori Wars, reads with all the vim of a novel. Helena Drysdale has researched her subject impeccably, giving us an absolutely vivid reconstruction of the intimate fabric of Isabella's life. Her descriptions, from the heat and dust of the Gascoynes' early life in India to the scarcely believable hardships of the pioneer's lot, are among the best I have ever read.' Daily Mail

'A remarkable slice of family history. What makes this story more interesting than most is the vividness of its telling. Helena Drysdale tells an extraordinary story well and her descriptions of life in up-country India and on a failing settler farm in Moteuaka are as vivid and immediate as one will ever read.' The Christchurch Press

'It's a story containing a piece of Nelson history that has escaped the notice of most, I suspect - and it may capture your imagination, as it did mine.' Nelson Mail

'Drysdale painstakingly recreates all the smells and sounds, the sweeping vistas of these two great nations [India and New Zealand] and paints a remarkable picture of these vastly different lands. She handles the conflict between Maori and Pakeha intelligently and with sensitivity. Strangerland is not only the story of one woman's struggle. It is the story of our struggle.' New Zealand Herald

'Although the story of two generations of one family, this beautifully written book reads mmore like a novel than conventional historical narrative. Strangerland is an impressive achievement. It serves to remind us how rich the sources are for the history of this country, of how effort and skill can encourage those sources to yield new and interesting insights, of how much we have still to understand - and of how writing a biography or a history can be for the author a journey of self-discovery.' Otago Daily Times





© Helena Drysdale 2006
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