Diana Strinati Baur, True Vines (and writing a book review)

I finally reached university when I was 34 years old.

I hadn't known to dream it when I was young.  My people didn't have a history of university attendance but I was a natural  researcher, a terribly curious child who became an intensely curious woman. 

My first husband suggested the marriage owed me a degree as I had followed the development of his career, moving around New Zealand's South Island over the years.

And so I began.  I dived into literature, wanting the papers necessary to apply for Bill Manhire's creative writing course.  I explored film studies, psychology, and archaeology along the way.  Then I discovered social and political anthropology and detoured off into that seductive discipline.

Degree complete and realising that there wasn't much work in New Zealand (population 4 million), divorced, and having lost my mother along the way, I set out for Istanbul.  To teach English, of course, like so many good kiwi students looking for work and experience.

Ten years later and here I am, a photographer, a writer, a woman of dual-nationality living in Belgium.

All that to introduce today's story.  Last year, one of my favourite people published her first novel. I packed it, back in November, and read it as I traveled the 16,000kms+ home ...

Home for the first time in 8 years.  But the book pulled me in anyway, despite all that was going on in my head.  I recognised situations and characters, I knew that feeling of expat dislocation ... of not being sure of where home was anymore.

And then I arrived in NZ, put the book down, and spent 5 weeks wandering my old worlds, spending time with family and friends while sinking into that landscape I love more than any other.  There were roadtrips and beaches, mountains and forests, there were bush walks, jet boat rides, rivers ... everything you can imagine and more.  And friends, so many really kind friends.

I arrived back in Belgium ... that other home, to a life that demanded quite a lot of me.  4 hours on public transport twice a week, 2 hours on the other week-days.  And more.  And housework.  Life ... just the usual messy demanding life we all lead but I found it incredibly difficult to settle.

And the book review I wanted to write kept being put to one side.  I knew, part of it was that I had no space in my head for writing ... most definitely not even for serious review-style reading.  Time passed, it sat there on my shoulder, poking me occasionally, waiting.

Back at university we knew that to write an essay worthy of an A+, we needed to adopt a written language we called wankspeak.  Delightful I know but it was a way of recognising the elevation of language required to be truly worthy of an A+.

It terrified me.  I love poetic prose and always understood that that wouldn't get me an A+.  I developed a kind of nervous tic when it came to formal writing ... I required time, usually an extension on date due, and much misery.  You could say I developed a certain technique that got me through with maximum suffering.

Back to the present and somehow I had decided this book review needed to be worthy of an A+.  I should have pulled that idea out of my head at some point, discussed it with someone, had them say, Di, it's not about earning an A+.

Today, more than 4 months after opening the book, I decided it was time.  And I wrote.

I was stunned to find that I didn't need to reread the book, making notes and laboriously researching secondary sources.  I was stunned to realise that Diana's book had remained inside of me ... like the story of an old friend that I hadn't forgotten.  And that I understood, somewhere deep inside me, that it wasn't about wankspeak ... it was simply about tellling my truth.

Imagine that!

Anyway, let me introduce you to Diana, or a glimpse of her, via the photograph below.  Taken in Genova in October last year ...