The Land Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand – Aaron Allbright (Astrolabe Media Group)

Buy it now at Amazon.com – The Land Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand

Some years ago,
an American couple, Aaron Allbright and Beau La Joie Rodrigue, left California
for a place they had visited and dreamed of living: New Zealand. The Land
Near Oz: Two Gay Yankees Move to New Zealand
is Allbright’s memoir of the
permanent move and previous visits, with generous helpings of New Zealand
history and myth.

Allbright
commands an easy, readable style and love for his subject that make you curious
about a place you may have thought little about. Americans may be quick to
imagine New Zealand as Canada South, which makes it practically the U.S.,
right? Wrong. New Zealand culture, history, and topography make for myriad
spectacles and surprises. To begin with, white New Zealanders can be even more
British than the British, while the native Maori are very much a part of daily
life and culture.

Allbright is a
natural raconteur, and he is drawn to others like him, but when natural
raconteurs are rendered in print, they need natural editors. Allbright records
at length the jokes, tales, and opinions of his Kiwi neighbors, though it is
difficult to discern a focus in all these, and the accents become laborious to
decipher. Allbright himself practices colorful digression as an art form,
charming us and painting a lovely panorama, especially of New Zealand’s rugged
coast. The charms of discursive storytelling have a price, though. It takes The
Land Near Oz
a good hundred pages to jell (though, to be fair, the same can
be said of Dickens, whose delight in eccentrics resembles Allbright’s), and
even then it threatens to dissolve back into a series of colorful incidents
without a deliberate statement to make. The wild, lonely New Zealand coast is a
refuge for misfits and “characters,” but their stories revealed little to me
about the lives of the rest of us. Allbright and Beau are not misfits. They are
cheerful and well-adjusted. Even Allbright’s diagnosis with leukemia, early on,
seems not to disturb things much; we would have essentially the same book
without it.

I even ended up
wondering what makes this book “gay.” Sexual difference in the social setting
seems not to be an issue. The Kiwis adore and accept “the boys,” as does Beau’s
colorful mom, who comes for an extended visit. Physicality, a core issue for
gay men, is not mentioned. We don’t know how the leukemia diagnosis affects
Allbright’s relationship with his body or his lover’s. On the cultural front,
we learn about relations between New Zealand’s white majority and Maori
minority, yet the threat and allure of the other’s physicality is not
discussed. The mention of a strapping Maori man with tattooed face intrigued
me, but I felt alone in my reaction and in my wish to examine that reaction.
Addressing the social, sexual, and political dimensions of “otherness” is a
natural, even unavoidable duty of queer writers. Allbright describes the
uniqueness of New Zealand, but most of his observations are polite and generic,
and he portrays himself and Beau as “just like anyone else.” But those who
write books are not like anyone else – even as they might long to escape
to a far-off land and live a romance that can appeal to “everyone.”

It is telling
that Allbright’s title actually does not reference New Zealand, but Australia,
letting him use the evocative nickname “Oz,” put a rainbow on the cover, and
use a font that echoes the title treatment of the Wizard of Oz film.
Allbright may just want New Zealand to be “where troubles melt like lemon
drops.” Like many who allude to L. Frank Baum’s mythic land, Allbright ignores
the darkness and complexity of Oz. Remember, Dorothy found even more trouble
over the rainbow than she did at home.

Reviewed by
David Pratt

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