Canterbury Quake

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Canterbury Quake

WALLACE, Desna Canterbury Quake Scholastic (NZ) (My New Zealand Story), 2014 176pp NZ$19.50 pbk ISBN 9781775431824 SCIS 1646914

There is something uncanny for me in reviewing this book that retells, through the eyes and voice of an eleven year old girl, Maddy, the ‘story’ of the Christchurch earthquakes.  Of course, there are multiple stories that can be told and so, I weave my own story into the reading of this book.  For example, the mentioning of the devastation of the Victoria Street Children’s Bookshop in the story (plus a photograph at the end) resonates deeply as this space, and the people like Sheila and Mary who are essential to this space, are part of my professional and personal life.  When I see Sheila, the owner, next, I will have to hear her story and weave this into this text.

Written appropriately in diary, we overhear the conversations, the expressions of emotion, the minutiae of detail, the warp and weave of changing places, characters, relationships, and certainties in a world where the notion of routine is deeply contested.  Yes, there are the usual story dilemmas of coping with younger brothers, changing schools, growing up and peers who are bullies, but in the context of extraordinary upheavals, there are new ways of looking at the usual.  The author captures this very well indeed as disaster, as a lived-through experience, brings about new dynamics in what it is to live, what is meaningful and why we exist.  One only has to read the diary entry (Wednesday 6 April) of Tessa’s, the older sister’s, despair of having to change schools and commute great distances and how Maddy struggles to be a caring sibling, to read a story that resonates with the complexity of unwanted change.  The diary entry of 22 May also tells how perception and reality can be two different things as Maddy sings with Zoe (the perceived bully) and both inspire the community.  The next entry is how younger brother Jackson has stopped bedwetting.  Storylines here reflect the interwoven complexity of actual living.  Closure here is less about all issues resolved and more about the need for hope and resilience.  Appropriately poetic, the emergence of daffodil buds (a Christchurch icon) after winter snow provokes a powerful emotional reaction in young Maddy as a ‘sign of things going to get better.’ Nature destroys and nature can be a space of healing.  I would highly recommend this book as a powerful evocation of nature and its impact on culture.

reviewed by John McKenzie

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