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When Empire Calls by Ken Catran

March 22, 2012

When Empire Calls by Ken Catran. Pub. Scholastic, 2012.

I love Ken Catran’s books because they are so well researched and he seems so comfortable talking about war. This time he takes on the Boer War and what an enlightening novel  this is.

Told from the point of view of James, a 15 year old farm boy who receives first hand accounts of Boer War action and tactics from his brother Edward who volunteered to go. Edward was caught up in the patriotic fervour that whipped through New Zealand in 1899. The wonderful British Empire must be saved from the wicked Boer.

Oh how untrue and hypocritical this patriotic propaganda was.

Firstly soldiers had to pay the equivalent of a years salary and provide their own horse. When they went to Africa they were forced to use scorched earth and genocide tactics to beat the Boers who employed guerilla like tactics. Internment camps for civilians were used for the first time.

Catran also skillfully portrays the growing New Zealand identity at the turn of the century which was to mature after Gallipolli and World War 1. Already there is racism as Maori were not allowed to go because the Boer was white. Can’t have brown fighting white, what!!

An excellent short novel for high school students. Cleverly written by an old master.

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