By Chessie Henry
For months and months I had wanted to read We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry, following its recommendation to me by Head of English, Ms Gilbert. For me there is something uniquely satisfying about any book written by a Kiwi author set in New Zealand. The incomparable niche of Kiwi feelings is one that is supremely difficult to pinpoint accurately. For all our diversity there is an underlying connection in memoirs or poetry written by Kiwi authors that I strive to find in the texts I read. We Can Make a Life, along with Aspiring Daybook, connects to my desire for nostalgia in a way that is so difficult to achieve.
A collection of memoirs exploring family, trauma, the oh so familiar earthquakes, and her father’s life as a rural GP is so connectable for everyone, but especially for Cantabrians. There is something so familiar about the rediscovering of family stories and the trauma and confusion that surrounds loss. To me, reading We Can Make a Life is like coming home to the fire being on as the rain pours outside. The beautiful poetic nature of We Can Make a Life makes this book, technically an easy read, but yet the rawness, the reality of love, loss, and trauma makes it so satisfying just the same. For those of us who quite possibly haven’t explored our traumas, particularly those surrounding the earthquakes, it is also a confronting, yet compulsive and moving read. I wouldn’t call We Can Make a Life harsh in anyway, nor would I call it depressing or sad, and yet I fear I may have left tear stains on Ms Gilbert’s copy of this beautiful piece of art. We Can Make a Life is a nuanced exploration of our everyday and our catastrophes, one I would happily cry over again and again.