Tree of Strangers

Book Author Barbara Sumner
Rights Available World excl. NZ

Like many adopted people, well-known New Zealand filmmaker Barbara Sumner yearned to find her biological mother. New Zealand’s closed adoption laws prevented this from happening. When they finally found each other, their longed-for reunion ended in tragedy. Tree of Strangers traces Sumner’s turbulent formative years with her adopting family and examines New Zealand’s social and moral landscape and the legacy of stranger adoption. Sumner is an outspoken critic of New Zealand’s adoption laws and her memoir explores the personal and social consequences of severing all connection with history, culture, family and authentic identity. She argues that her experience is shared by many who have had their whakapapa (genealogical links) grafted onto a tree of strangers — for their lifetimes and those of their descendants. Tree of Strangers is much more than activist writing. It is a remarkable, haunting, beautifully crafted book — eloquent, moving and tender. Although set in New Zealand it has universal relevance, and it is memoir at its finest.

About the Author
Barbara Sumner has worked in film and journalism, and manages Cloud South Pictures with her husband, Tom Burstyn. In 2009 This Way of Life, their feature documentary about a family living simply in the Ruahine Ranges, won the Berlinale Generation Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, was shortlisted for an Oscar, and won awards at film festivals around the world. Barbara is a graduate of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. She lives in Napier, New Zealand. View her website here.


Massey University Press


179 x 115mm

Hardback with jacket

Non Fiction

Memoir & Biography

Publication Date
September 2020

Rights Available:
World excl. NZ

Rights Agents:


Nicola Legat, Massey University Press

Contact Massey University Press about this book

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It packs a wallop

John Campbell, TVNZ

A rare window into the inner questions one asks around identity, family, right and wrong, which, if you are anything like me, will leave you reflecting on your own journey for some time to come.

Royna Ngahuia Fifield-Hakaraia, Shepherdess

Barbara Sumner’s Tree of Strangers is, through her sharp intellect and exquisitely cinematic writing, a book of ... social and literary importance.

Caroline Barron, Kete