This story is set in a small province in a castaway corner of the world in a country so small that everyone knows someone who has shaken hands with the Prime Minister, or run over her cat.
There is a civil war of sorts going on; one side seeing water as a tradable commodity, the other wanting it left in the river.
The warp on which this story is woven is the tale of an escape from a Siberian prison by a Polish emigree who instills in the young artist an almost messianic belief in legal principle.
When New Zealand's conservation minister, Nick Smith, puts aside the rule of law to enable a neo-liberal acquisition of Canterbury's water, the artist chooses to fight back with the only tool available to him, a weapon he has been honing his entire life; imagination. His portrait of Smith begins with a formal likeness cast in cow manure and ends with a giant statue of the minister defecating in a glass of water.
Although the book documents more than fifteen years of broken promises and the dubious reshaping of legal frames, it is far from grim reading. The exposés and reveals in this tragedy of the commons are startlingly funny and it is these glimpses into the fallibility of human nature, on both sides of the political fence, that underscore the many lessons learned along the way. At the least, the book serves as a beginners guide to politics. At its best, in the manner of Abbey's The monkey-wrench gang, it is a call to arms.