Book Reviews

Talk of Treasure is a deeply personal insight into the life – and soul - of an author faced with the momentous task of turning a travel journal into a product that will sell. .. Christian meditation and becoming an Oblate run parallel to Jane’s efforts at her computer screen. ‘I can self-start, and I know how to hold on tight, but I need a kaleidoscope of friendships to suggest routes, to help me steer’. This comes from a chapter entitled ‘Monastic Overtures’ and concerns her calling to be an Oblate of the Christian Meditation Community. Her calling to become a published author can be similarly described… If you enjoyed Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road or Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walks then this book is for you.

Vincent Maire, National Coordinator, New Zealand Community for Christian Meditation, in
NZCCM’s National Newsletter Stillpoint December 2016

In Talk of Treasure, Jane tells us the long saga of finding a publisher for her former book, Under The Huang Jiao Tree. That book was about her year as a teacher in China. She also relates in Talk of Treasure something of her journey to commitment as a Benedictine Oblate. And as a background, life at home for her includes hospitality to Chinese students as boarders.

Disparate themes…? Jane weaves them gently and with style. ….The quiet beauty of Jane’s story is often between the lines, sometimes emerging briefly, as when she is telling us about meditation:

But then, there’s no such thing as a good or bad meditator; the terms have no meaning. You might as well talk about a good or bad snowflake. In the end there are no words for why we meditate, but meditators sometimes speak of finding a different kind of knowing, a different way of seeing, somewhere inside them. This serene but radical discipline must satisfy its practitioners in some way, because they keep on meditating in spite of its demands. If you’re serious about meditating, you need to cast off from the shore, and for that you need a sort of nerve. It’s deep out there. [p.35]

Ross Miller, editor of NZ Oblate, writing in the Advent issue, December 2016

Before you open Jane’s latest book catch the spirit of the cover. It’s a glimpse of the interior treasure—words selected carefully from the top shelf, crafted into sentences and melded into a journey that involves both stumbling blocks and stepping stones.

The overall result is similar to a skilled artisan taking a piece of rough kauri, shaping it so the grain shines out, the knot becomes a feature and as we feel its shape and smoothness it warms to our touch. Like this book it rewards us with its clarity, freshness and beauty. A work of art with a New Zealand aroma

Here we have a story that reminds us that the inner creative impulse will push us to step over self doubts and shove obstacles aside—treasure exists.

Review by Lester Reid, editor of Shalom, November 2016

Talk of Treasure is the second book written by Jane Carswell, her first being an award winning account of her time spent teaching English to Chinese students in Chongqing, China. That was an engaging, insightful, quietly thoughtful western perspective on Jane’s encounter with all things Chinese and its impact on her. In this second memoir the reader accompanies the author on her experience of writing Under The Huang Jiao Tree. But this is no dry account, nor is it a self indulgent narrative.

There are sparkling observations of the students with whom she shares her home, as well as her friends, that are unsentimental, humorous, almost blunt at times, but always compassionate towards the shared imperfections of human nature…. Amidst these variable but always human encounters, Jane sits at her computer to write. We are led through the daydreams, the lacerating self doubt, courage, persistence, elation, dejection and self discovery, that awaits an aspiring writer, to discover that life and being and till then her largely dormant passion for writing, are all of a piece, prodding and pushing each other to birth.

What Jane Carswell discovers is that learning to write about her Chongqing experience was as much about her own self discovery as it was about her Chinese observations and the technicalities of writing. Throughout the numerous revisions and submissions to friends and publishers for comment Carswell is repeatedly asked ‘where is the writer?’. William Wordsworth said, ‘Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart’. But to the learning writer, a confessed minus scorer on the scale of sociability, this was mystifying. After all, she says ‘The book itself is as me as it gets’. So the story becomes a bit like a literary chase as the reader participates in the author’s search for the missing ‘self’. I found myself wanting to call out like an audience at a stage play, ‘here, look here’. Something at least to ease the pain of another disappointment.

The raw frustrations of the writing process are situated against a backdrop of the big questions as Jane Carswell relates her decision to commit to a monastic discipline of prayer and meditation – a response to her search ‘for whatever it is that makes us always a little hungry and homesick’. In these descriptions the writing is especially fresh. She speaks of the daily practice of meditation, a tentative bedrock holding the ordinariness and challenges of living, as that which ‘stands in my kitchen, in working clothes, carrying a torch.’ And the fruits of prayer ‘as making a difference to what I can see’. No big claims, no mystical heights, but one senses a quietly transforming vision. The motif of ‘wanting to see’ runs through the book. It is also why she writes.

This journey reaches its zenith at the conclusion of the book. With yet another critical rejection, Jane Carswell retreats in an inner sense and physically, monastic style, to a coastal hermitage. This is for her the last roll of the dice. With no expectations, she lays down her last defences – her hopes and fantasies, any last vestiges of pretensions and writes it as it was, no longer the observer but in it, one with it.... In this intersection between the writing process and her spiritual search, Jane Carswell discovers that it is the one path. In giving herself, constructions aside, she unlocks the door to reveal the writer. The ‘treasure’ is her gift of self. The writing process is a metaphor for the human journey. Like any journey worthy of its goal, it was fraught and hard won, mostly in darkness. Sometimes we inch towards vulnerability, at other times it is the desperate last stand that snaps us free of the encumbrances to sight and sometimes, as in Talk of Treasure, it is both….This is a most interesting and enjoyable book. It is entertaining on simply the level of the author’s life because her powers of description are so acute and even tender. But it is a fascinating account of the way in which that which we give ourselves to, our passions, that which wholly engages us, becomes the raw material in which we become fully human. Now there’s a story. Jane Carswell tells it with insight and awareness.

Ruth Fowler, co-founder of the Australian Christian Meditation Community

The leading theme is the tough process of writing her previous award-winning book ‘Under the Huang Jiao Tree’, a memoir about a year spent as an English teacher in China. It is a book about learning to be a writer, staying doggedly faithful to a deep-felt passion to write through many publishers’ rejections, struggling to understand the advice she is given. It is about learning to make the events and people that have enlivened her life communicate themselves to the reader, discovering that crafting a diary is surprisingly different from fashioning a memoir. It is about the challenge to do two apparently contradictory things, to stand back and look objectively at her story, as the reader will be doing, yet to risk the vulnerability of revealing herself intimately in the retelling. Weaving through the story are trusted friendships and an array of student lodgers from China, her attraction to monasteries, meditation and becoming a Benedictine oblate. These are inseparable from the theme of learning to write because, for Jane, learning to write is just as much about learning who she is, how to live, finding where her treasure is and what is and isn’t treasure. Most of the books on her shelves, she says , are ‘about the journeys that teach us who we are’. But many dodge the part of the story that tells what is going on in the inside, yet, ‘there on the inside, always, is the engine room of a life’.

The writing is unselfconsciously beautiful, engaging, brushed with unobtrusive humour. Describing the end of the silence at a retreat she comments, ‘As our opinions fire up, you can smell the exhaust; insistent egos are burning off community.’ Standing in front of Piero’s Resurrezione in San Sepolcro she observes, ‘I can’t keep away from it. The sleeping figures are stiller than sleep; the moment that’s pinned to this old wall holds its breath……There’s art enough here to stop the world spinning.’ Vignettes of friends speak of relationships savoured; her perspective on others is always generous and merciful. This is the gentle aspect of the book. Speaking of a student lodger: ‘Domestically he is equally disciplined. Money for board tightly enclosed in a recycled envelope is discreetly posted under my bedroom door every Tuesday: I hear his quiet footsteps stop outside my room, and the envelope glides smoothly into view. It’s like having my own ATM.’

The eye she has for herself is critical and impatient, the hard side of the growth of self-awareness, the gritty aspect of the book. ‘I’m no longer ‘giving a voice to a Chinese school in a Chinese city’ as I once told myself, drums rolling, nor am I not paying tribute to an unusual experience, writing a beautiful book or practising an honourable craft. I’m just telling it how it was’.

This is the realisation which enables her to bring her first book to publication and the motivation which drives this second book: how to be true, how to write the inside as well as the outside of things. ‘There’s a lot you can’t explain to your friends…… That’s why we have to write. Sometimes we have to tell the stories just for ourselves………….so many things go mouldy under wraps.’

This is a book for anyone who longs to be a writer, or indeed to follow any passion they find in themselves. Read it, too, if you suspect there is more to life than you have realised, if you have a hunch the inside of things is bigger than the outside. You will find Jane’s book an honest guide, a sympathetic companion and a really good read.

Liz Watson, a leader in the United Kingdom Christian Meditation Community

Talk of Treasure is about growing up in Dunedin and Christchurch, living in China, writing a book and attempting to have it published, living with family, having Chinese students in Christchurch, and above all, about becoming a contemplative -“Meditation makes a difference to what I can see.”

Jane invites you to pay attention to the ordinary and extraordinary, the western and Chinese world views, and to see with new eyes. “Observing the perspectives from which my guests creep up on life gradually expands my own perceived notions.” Painful, fraught, truthful, merciful, and quirky, “Talk of Treasure” traces alternative ways of being in the world. It tickles you, takes you on a journey that is feminine, chaotic, and leaves you wind blown, wiser, more thoughtful. It dances, breathes, it moves everywhere, full of delightful ruminations - “It does wake me up to visit faraway places where the sun wears a different face and the wind sings strange songs, writing looks like stitching and noses are sculpted quite differently.”

It is Jane's observations on meditation that remain with me and encourage me to pick up the book again and again long after I have finished it. Jane writes, “But it is the attentive listening that strikes me most. Silence has sharpened our hearing... half an hour of meditating together has knocked back our usual ear-stopping impulses – to fix the pain, sort the confusion once and for all, shore up indignation by endorsement, cap or correct the story.”

Kathleen Gallagher, poet, film maker, playwright, author of the acclaimed novel
Earthquakes and Butterflies, reviewing for Tui Motu

In her second book, an autobiographical memoir, Jane has explored her life for the reader through the vicissitudes of writing a book. “Treasure” is not inherited jewellery or investments in the bank but diaries kept through the years and reclaimed in essence to reward the reader with expanded anecdotes from the past. Comments of books read in childhood trigger wonderful memories of similar experiences with sheer delight. It is through the New Zealand China Friendship Society that a spare room becomes a guest room, and so begin the years of sharing food and friendship with ten Chinese students. Grace, from Lanzhou is of special memory as a delightfully ebullient girl who during a two year stay became well-loved by our Society members. Exploring the teaching of St Benedict and practising meditation have been part of the rich life that Jane has experienced while fretting about the difficulties of finding a publisher for her writing. She has a keen eye for detail, a delightful sense of the absurd while writing with great empathy for human frailty. This book is a worthy sequel to “Under the Huang Jiao Tree”..

Helen Bain, a foundation member of the NZ China Friendship Society,
in the Christchurch Branch Newsletter Jan. 2017

Jane Carswell’s Talk of Treasure describes an internal voyage with detours into the worlds of meditation, the monastic life and hosting Chinese visitors but with a road map firmly marked with the route to becoming a writer.

It turns out to be a rough ride, with at least 17 rejection slips blocking the path to eventual publication.

Advice from friends and editors includes comments like ‘reading the manuscript is rather like accompanying a bee as it flits from one intriguing plant to another’ and ‘Where are you in your story?’ All very useful, no doubt, and combined with agonising over getting just the right word rather in the manner of a poet, the author produced her award winner.

With Talk of Treasure we know just where Jane Carswell is in her story. She provides memories of childhood reading, including the Just William books (a solid foundation for any would-be writer), and descriptions of the sometimes mysterious characters met on the road to becoming an oblate (‘someone who tries to follow the spirit of a monastic order in their ordinary life without having to give up or promise too much’). Spirituality is leavened with light touches of humour: ‘I did like cloisters, the way they bent the light and the sheltered air they enclosed. Perhaps it was the cloisters that drew me first.’

Probably no flawless book has yet been produced and Dunedin readers may flinch at ‘Prince Edward Technical School’ in the reminiscing about childhood holidays in Stuart St, but memory is a fickle faculty. Talk of Treasure is not only a fine piece of writing but the publishers have produced an attractive vehicle for the worlds, even to the extent of giving stylish French flaps to the cover. But wrestling with words remains at the heart of this book and my favourite is the author’s revival of ‘swithered’, a 16th-century Scottish word meaning ‘was uncertain’. There are many more linguistic delicacies to lighten the journey and at the end of it all Jane Carswell has certainly reached her goal of being ‘a writer’.

Jim Sullivan, reviewer,
in the Otago Daily Times, 21 January 2017

Jane Carswell’s Talk of Treasure is a quiet and pondering reflection on what it is to be a ‘writer’, how one is to insert their own voice into a story, and what, in fact, constitutes an acceptable finished product. Is it enough, she wonders, to complete a manuscript for oneself, or should a novel or other work in its entirety be considered successful only if published and read by others?

Carswell started her working life in the local publishing industry, which set her curiosity running. More recently she spent time teaching English in China, exploring new worlds, and it’s on her return that she attempts to reconcile aspects of her life in China with her present lifestyle in New Zealand. Hosting Chinese homestay students proves a notable venture and a source of recurring inspiration throughout this book. She gains knowledge about herself through these one-on-one interactions with students this time on her home turf, while being exposed to their expectations and outlooks. Her first memoir, Under the Huang Jiao Tree, had focused on her time of learning about herself and her place in the world in China.

As Carswell embarks on this second work she contemplates her place in the world of writing. She is already a published author, so does this in itself make her a writer? Perhaps she is simply a gate-crasher at their party, ‘clad in a manuscript that smells foul’. She constantly struggles with self-doubt which her oft-carefully-worded rejection letters from publishing companies do nothing to appease. However, she recognises that she is stubborn, refusing to give in to their requests for an identifiable narrative thread and a less meandering first person narrator. An assessor’s report refers to her ‘unshapely verbal conglomerate’. For some readers, this ‘querying’ focus in place of a plot will be disconcerting, as this work really is for those who are writers themselves or interested in the process of writing in itself.

Also of vital importance to Carswell is the place of meditation and spirituality in her life. The meaning gained from her writing, and the purpose of her meditation and retreats, are intertwined. Silence, and that implied in the gaps between words, has a notable part to play. From these influences comes an endeavour to write honestly and authentically, as her ‘best self’. She describes writing towards a goal as a journey that chronicles our progress ‘as we dance, creep and stumble our way through outer and inner worlds’, while at the base of everything that matters is the ‘engine room of a life’.

At times it would seem that a tighter narrative form would be valid, if, indeed, Carswell's aim were to unfold a straightforward story. Some action might have a place in holding interest more firmly. However, Carswell never pretends an interest in unfurling a novel or even a chronologically-based memoir. Talk of Treasure is to be approached as its own unassuming exploration of self and place in writing. Its beguiling cover, encasing the diary-like form, with many short entries, add to the gentle tread of this book.

Jessie Neilson, in Takahe Magazine,
a thrice-yearly publication ‘bringing literature and art from Aotearoa New Zealand to the world’ March 2017.

Writing about Writing

How do you depict the process of writing? Very few of the many films about writers try to show their protagonist actually doing it. Doctor Zhivago demonstrates why. Omas Sharif sits at his desk, stares into space, writes for a bit, stares again—then we see a waste-paper basket full of scrunched-up sheets of paper.

Biographers do better, particularly when they’re intent on finding satisfactory answers to the question of how a particular person living in a particular time and place, created what they did (as in Lyndall Gordon’s piercingly insightful biographies). But examining a writer’s process still depends heavily on what’s available in the archives, and even then must often be mainly guesswork. Even for writers themselves, working out and setting down what happens when they write is always arduous, because what it involves is so complex and hard to fathom.

In Talk of Treasure, her second book, Jane Carswell makes a gallant and engaging attempt. Starting shortly after she returned from a year teaching in China, it centres on her efforts to write an account of that experience, based on her diary, and get it accepted for publication.

The back cover (but not the text) reveals that Under the Huang Jiao Tree was published in 2010 [should be 2009] and won an award for travel book of the year. Here, her aim is to convey what one chapter heading calls the “Secret history of an unsuccessful writer”: her experience of the long uncertain period of writing, multiple rejections and rewriting that came first.

Along the way she writes alluringly about other facets of her life: her early book life (closely matching mine at many points, though her parents belonged to the Book Society): her interactions with lovers, friends, family, and the Chinese students who came to share her house; occasional allusions to her paid work as a music teacher; and her repeated retreats to various forms of sanctuary.

In some cases, these retreats relate to the parallel narrative of her involvement with meditation, which she describes as “simply the practice of learning to give complete attention to one thing”, on “the borderland between mind and heart” (which could serve as a fine description of writing).

Later comes her decision to embark on the path to becoming a Benedictine oblate. She explains that this “represents, within the monastic tradition, the opportunity—for those who feel it’s for them—to live the spirit of a monastic order within the context of their everyday life in the world”, including meditating “twice a day in the Christian tradition”.

Carswell does her best to explore, as frankly as possible, why she is drawn to do this, and her subsequent struggles to make sense of what it means to her, in terms of both her life in general and her life as a writer....

Seeing the whole book as an extended meditation on writing and existence helps to make sense of its fragmented flow. Carswell’s prose is, for the most part, very finely crafted indeed.... As for depicting writing itself, she is acutely precise about what a frustrating business it can be. She charts the sudden swings of emotion about your own work, as well as that hurt, angry conviction of being completely misunderstood when others astutely point our your manuscript’s flaws.

The first four publishers she tries all make similar comments about the absence of essential authorial presence, or rather persona; but it takes her a long time to understand what they mean when they ask “Where are you in your story?” By page 165 she has started to grasp that they are ‘pointing to a void where something should be and isn’t; surely one day I’ll be able to see what it is.”

Nevertheless, she stubbornly sends the manuscript off another dozen times. A few pages from the end, she at last begins to make the vital shift, which has clearly been crucial for this book, too:

My fingers on the keys sleepwalk, almost for the first time, into the scarred and pocked territory of vanities, confusions, fears, illusions, guilts. The dispassionate observer has taken off somewhere. I realise she was something of a poseur, but it wasn’t really her fault: she just couldn’t see clearly.

Anne Else, Wellington writer, blogger and editor, in NZ Books,
a quarterly publication devoted to reviewing New Zealand books.

Jane Carswell’s account of a year teaching in a Chongqing middle school combines an acute eye for detail with a succinct style that transforms ordinary sights into insights, eloquent and sometimes startling, even for those familiar with China. Her empathy with her Chinese colleagues, her enjoyment of encounters with strangers, her patience with difficult situations create a human story few could resist. Courageous interludes of self-revelation turn this book into the double journey of experience plus introspection that makes it delightfully unique.

Professor Bill Willmott CNZM
Former Past President
New Zealand China Friendship Society

This is a wonderful story of mid-life opportunity. Jane Carswell is a courageous woman and a spirited writer. Her book is a warm invitation to us all to risk a deeper kind of journey.

Michael McGirr
Author of 'The Lost Art of Sleep',
'Bypass' and 'Things You Get For Free'

Bookseller+Publisher, October to November reviews

A light fresh memoir of a Westerner teaching in China, with insightful observations that lead to a journey of self-discovery. After throwing herself into the chaotic, ever-foggy city of Chingqing to teach middle school for a whole year, Jane Carswell grapples with culture and technology, builds relationships among isolation, and sees the beauty and poverty of the world around her. She contrasts life in Chongqing to her home in New Zealand and begins to long for the country she left behind. Through a deconstruction of self, Carswell reveals her passions and anxieties, and explores her identity and place in the world. Patience and tolerance for China reward her with relationships and cultural insight. This book reminds me of Brian Johnston’s ‘Boxing with Shadows’, but is less dramatic travel writing and more a self-reflection. As a person who has also lived in China for one year, I feel that I already know her story quite well, but feel that she is showing me something new about China. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who feels the urge to travel overseas.

Andrew Wrathall

The Sunday Age (Melbourne), 9 October 2009

The two journeys of the title are spatial and spiritual. Carswell was a music teacher in New Zealand, settled into middle age, but restless. She was selected by a Christian school to teach English in China, despite begin no evangelical. She took one Bible, for her own use. When she found in China was hard work, culture shock and a spiritual sea change. In the midst of an atheist, alien land, she turned away from the material, finding the space to write and reflect. The cult of the individual became less important. There are many travellers’ tales published, and equally stories of self-discovery. This book combines both in a very different way. It is unselfish, interesting even to non-believers

Lucy Sussex

Launceston Examiner (Tasmania) 9 October 2009

It’s a long way from New Zealand to China in more ways than one. The author makes this journey to teach English in a middle school in Sichuan Province for a year. Her reasons for doing this are not clear to herself, but as she teaches she learns and when she returns to New Zealand these lessons help her to find herself and a new inner peace. A fascinating account of day-to-day life in a different culture.

The Dominion Post (Wellington) 12 November 2009

A memoir by a 56-year-old Kiwi music teaching about 10 months of teaching English in China would not voluntarily make it into the teetering tower of to-be-read books on my bedside table. So, it’s a good thing I’m a reviewer or I would have missed this unexpected pleasure. Jane Carswell’s observations and insights are interesting, astute and amusing. In Chongqing she is confronted with cultural and personal contrasts and conflicts: she is seduced by the simplicity of life there, but knows she’d be unable to eschew privilege; despite always being a private person, she now revels in the sense of community and connection; and although she’s embarked on an external adventure, it’s the internal spiritual journey that finally gives her ease. In beautiful harmony with the world she describes, Carswell’s understated writing has a rare clarity and honesty, making this a gentle, graceful read.

Joanna Rix

The Age (Melbourne) 26 December 2009

The Westerner's spiritual journey to the East has become such a cliche that any author writing on the subject must tread carefully. Jane Carswell treads not only carefully, but thoughtfully and originally. About a decade ago, New Zealander Carswell spent a year teaching English in a school in Chongqing, China. Most of the book describes that year, as she struggles with the challenges of living in a foreign land: from the practical such as unfamiliar toilets and cuisine, to loneliness and homesickness, to the extremes of cultural difference. Yet Carswell often found common ground with her Chinese students and colleagues, and was open to the different ways she encountered. This genuine openness is one of the qualities that sets Carswell's book apart. The word "journey" to describe any experience has been much abused by reality TV participants. Here, the word has real resonance. She talks of the two interrelated journeys she made: the outer and the inner. She explores her changing understanding of her identity with a light touch, never self-indulgent or didactic. On her return to New Zealand, a period that she describes only briefly, she became a Benedictine oblate. After her year away, Carswell discovered that she was a writer as well as a teacher: Under the Huang Jiao Tree is proof of that.

Lorien Kaye

The Otago Daily Times (Dunedin) 12 December 2009

Over the past few weeks, China seems to have been to the fore whenever I pick up a paper, magazine or pick up on a conversation. The accounts of life there differed wildly. Among them were the New Zealand tourist who described every experience in glowing terms, the smart young Australian journalist who went to explore her family’s roots, and felt (in spite of her Chinese ancestry) like an alien, young friends who went there to work and were subjected to a welcoming ceremony accompanied by many alcoholic “toasts”, the object of which seemed aimed at their losing face, businessmen who couldn’t cope with the pollution they found, and recently published statistics regarding the immense gains made in the quality of life there for the majority. Not surprisingly, these were widely differing accounts—it’s such a huge and diverse country. And most of them were mere snapshots in time, varying from days to weeks. This memoir by Jane Carswell of a year teaching English in a large Chongqing high school, living in the same compound as her fellow teachers and their families, one of only two European teachers in a city unused to white faces, gave me a more comprehensive perspective. Relentlessly honest and well-written, the book recounts her experience of everyday life in Chongqing alongside self-exploration of personal goals. She is fond of metaphor and uses it to give you a feeling of being there with her, whether describing her first impressions of the landscape “…beneath us the land boils into hills, blistered and bubbled, the terraced edges like a thousand eyebrows. Beside the imposing spread of the city, the airport looks startlingly small and somehow unsure of its function”, or her longing for “scraps of the natural world…I’m used to living in a home wrapped by garden”; so when she feels “…desiccated and sandpapered by the city” she looks over her balcony to where glimpses of “a little dusty green” and a few small animals and birds help to restore her equanimity. With her eye for detail and willingness to make the best of most situations, she provided me with a realistic-sounding guide as to what it must be like to be away from home and family in a metropolitan area with 31 million people, much of the time surrounded by fog, “a grey metal-and-rock world” in a culture where privacy is rare, your motives can be misunderstood, your lavatory is a hole in the floor, and you’re contracted to stay for a year. After a few months, she has “a strong disaffection for everything in the Chinese world around me” and is frightened by the sense of isolation she feels. Before long, however, she regains a balanced view. Bonuses are the insights she gets into a way of life where the sheer numbers of people demand a patience that is rare in New Zealand, and an overwhelming sense of community. The author’s empathy with the people she meets, the fascinating insights into Chinese life she provides, her ability to take the reader with her on the personal and private journeys she makes, all contribute to a story well worth reading.

Pat Thwaites

Australian Community for Christian Meditation Newsletter, March 2010

I am always delighted when I receive invitations to attend exhibitions or such like, to view the creative works by a Community member. Apart from the privilege of being invited to share in someone else’s life and activities in this way, my pleasure also lies in ‘seeing’ most tangibly through the art or music, or in this case, the writing, the unfolding of being in the life of someone you know and deeply respect. It is the playing out of John Main’s teaching that ‘through the practice of Christian Meditation we become more truly the person we were created to be’. So when I learned of Jane Carswell’s newly published tale of her time teaching in a Foreign Language School in Chongqing, China about a decade ago, I went straight out to procure a copy. In Under The Huang Jiao Tree, subtitled Two Journeys in China, Jane explores both the outer and inner journeys of her experience in China. The book’s publishers classify it under three headings – travel, spirituality and memoir. Having known and cared for and been fascinated by, many Chinese students over the past fifteen years, I am very interested in her astute observations of these usually wonderful, hard working and resilient young people and their life. But my greatest interest lies in her very honest and open observations of her inner encounter with a very different culture of great paradox, mystery and expectation and the questions it raises for her life and journey into self understanding. Moments observed, such as the man under the Huang Jiao tree, from whom the book takes its name, are perceptively captured with an awareness of their possible multi-layered meanings and always with a deeply respectful openness and humility before more questions. Jane is now a leading member of the New Zealand Christian Meditation Community. Her journey on all levels in China prepared her to ‘hear’ the teaching on Christian Meditation when Laurence Freeman OSB visited Christchurch some time after her return to New Zealand. Her insightful writing on the practice of Christian Meditation and its impact on her life and her allegiances to two Christian streams could well serve as a reflection piece for Christian Meditation gatherings and hopefully encourage others to write deeply about the practice in their lives. But the book is worth reading for itself, it is very well written with a light touch, a gentle sense of irony and humour, but always with profound respect and compassion for others. And as I always find when I have the privilege of hearing others ‘inner journeys’, it helps me with my own. I recommend it to you.

Ruth Fowler

Born in England, Jane Carswell received all her schooling at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch, New Zealand where she now lives. Other homes were in Dunedin, Perugia (where she studied Italian) Waikari, Leeston and Chongqing (where she taught English). After piano lessons with Jessie Cook until she was 25, Jane began a lifelong career in teaching music. She has also worked with publishers, booksellers, lawyers, accountants, historians, real estate agents and artists, and enjoys close involvement with the New Zealand China Friendship Society, New Zealand Community for Christian Meditation, 12-step programmes and the NZ Society of Authors. She is a Benedictine oblate, is married, and has a son and daughter, a 1912 straight-strung Bechstein piano, a split-cane fly rod, and small grandchildren who are teaching her ballet. She is a regular visitor to Australia.