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Contesting the legacy of Roger and Ruth

Contesting the legacy of Roger and Ruth

Young New Zealand voices writing at length on contemporary issues, with eloquence and intellectual facility, are rare. Andrew Dean, twenty-six, the author of Ruth, Roger and Me, is an exciting new talent.

With this addition to the BWB Texts series, Dean, a Rhodes Scholar from Canterbury, studying for a doctorate in literature at Oxford University, has taken time out to write a compelling conversation starter on the question of what it means to be young in New Zealand today. It is a New Zealand in which housing affordability, inequality, unemployment, and indebtedness cast lengthening shadows.

‘I wanted to tell the story of our “inheritance” – after three decades of reform,’ says Dean. ‘For so many of us, the circumstances in which we find ourselves are social phenomena without history.’

He joins a set of young writers and thinkers increasingly unwilling to accept at face value the status quo of free-market orthodoxy, insistent individualism and the continued devaluation of civic endeavour.

More a primer for his own generation than a thumbed nose at the values of those previous, Dean establishes an historical and political context for current social, political and economic conditions. In so doing he implicitly asks the question of his peers: what kind of a world do we want to live in?

‘I found I was unable to envision the future, without first talking about and understanding the past – what it means to me, how it helped create the person I am, and how it has formed so much of our political settlement today,’ he says.

Ruth, Roger and Me is thus also a personal journey: Dean climbing the ivory towers of Canterbury University to engage with Vice-Chancellor Rod Carr, an influential figure in our healthcare and education reforms; or meandering up her Canterbury garden path with that most radical of all the free-market champions, Ruth Richardson.

It is a courageous undertaking, giving the lie to a lingering myth: that the twenty-something generation of today just don't care. And whether debating the merits of student loans with Carr, or negotiating Richardson's prickly ideological rose beds, Dean builds acute observation and intellectual inquiry onto his own experiences – working with vulnerable children in Ashburton; helping out on post-Quake initiatives – to ground the project in an accessible contemporary relevance.


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