Dr Thom Conroy

Massey author’s The Naturalist tops bestseller list


Cover of The Naturalist

Listen to Dr Thom Conroy’s interview with Kim Hill here.

Massey University author Dr Thom Conroy’s novel The Naturalist is the current bestseller in New Zealand fiction.

Dr Conroy’s novel is a historical tale based on a true story set in 19th century New Zealand, Germany and London. Its central character is German naturalist, botanist and explorer Dr Ernst Dieffenbach, who championed equality between races and was known for his rebellious stand as a young student supporter of democracy in Germany.

On topping the Neilsen Weekly Bestseller list at one notch above Man Booker prize-winner The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, Dr Conroy says it’s been “satisfying and deeply humbling to know so many people are interested”.

The Naturalist, published earlier this month by Random House New Zealand under its Vintage label, is the result of six years’ research and writing. One of Dr Conroy’s main sources was Dieffenbach’s two-volume Travels in New Zealand, an account of his 18-month exploration of New Zealand’s land, people, following his voyage from London aboard the Tory.

The creative writing senior lecturer in the School of English and Media Studies at the Manawatü campus says he was struck by what he read about Dieffenbach while researching natural history for another project. He felt the German deserved more attention in light of his colourful personality and experiences at the onset of New Zealand’s colonisation.

Among the milestones of Dieffenbach’s time in pre-settler New Zealand were; being the first European to reach the summit of Mt Egmont (Taranaki), and writing the first Māori dictionary and grammar.

Since launching in early August, the book has been well-reviewed and had wide media coverage, including an interview with National Radio’s Kim Hill.

American-born Pennsylvanian Dr Conroy, who has lived in New Zealand for nine years, drew on extensive historical records and research, inventing some scenes and additional minor characters to bring the German’s remarkable personality and story to life. He hopes his fictional rendition of Dieffenbach’s story will have wide appeal – especially to those intrigued by influential yet marginalised historical figures who provide fresh clues to the tangents and nuances of New Zealand’s colonial history.

 

 

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