How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes

Chris Tse

Author: Chris Tse
Format: Paperback, Ebook
Pages: 80
Published: September 2014
Specs: 21.0cm x 16.5cm
ISBN: 9781869408183

Available in Ebook

The world is full of murder
and words are usually
the first to go

In 1905, white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered the Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese and other East Asian immigrants. Chris Tse uses this story - and its reenactment for a documentary a hundred years later - to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture. Along the way we visit the gold fields of the south, a shipwreck in the Hokianga that left the spirits of 500 Chinese goldminers in an unmemorialised limbo for a hundred years and the streets of Newtown, Wellington, where Lionel Terry went out one night 'looking for a Chinaman'. Chris Tse's flickering use of imagery, resonant language and flexible pronouns are particularly suited to the historic events he describes and the viewpoints he shifts through. How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes is a welcome poetic addition to New Zealand literature.


More about Chris Tse


Awards and Nominations

Winner – Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry 2016 – How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse



This extraordinary book, speaking equally in the languages of poetry and history, ends by speaking directly to the spirit of Joe Kum Yung and its right to be honoured. - Mary Cresswell, Turbine

How to be dead in a year of snakes is a brave traversing of fiction and New Zealand history. Tse shows how alienation and xenophobia can conspire in human tragedy. This is a riddle but also a lesson, one where we ‘must reach back into madness’ to learn from events that preceded us. - Elizabeth Morton, Booksellers NZ

This collection shows so beautifully, so movingly, the power of poetry to give renewed presence to history; so that the silent bridges billow with a new awareness of how we get to this point. - Paula Green, NZ Poetry Shelf



More about Hōne Sadler


Read an extract here



This book is a revelation. - Arini Loader, Journal of NZ Studies

...this book is complex yet accessible, beautifully presented, anchored in the landscape of the places and people about whom it is written, and artfully, powerfully argued in a voice of the people. - Arini Loader, Journal of NZ Studies