Reading this harrowing reminder of living though the Christchurch earthquakes in one sitting, then stumbling to my feet to look over the mirror-like surface of the bay below was a surreal experience.
One moment I was reliving the terror of the earthquakes and multitude aftershocks; driving around streets strewn with debris and liquefication; and imagining trying to comfort stricken and displaced family members. All this, while camping out in the dilapidated family home, surrounded by irreparable household treasures; battling with EQC; and grieving the loss of much-loved buildings and institutions.
When I put down the book, I was stunned, but with a greater understanding of what my Christchurch friends had experienced. And a sense that my awakening was long overdue.
Rosie Belton’s retelling of living with earthquakes and multitude aftershocks, takes the reader from the first major shock in 2010, right up until 2018 when she attended the opening of Tūranga – the new Christchurch library. As a writer, this marked an important part of the city’s recovery for Belton. But the book she has written about her own experiences leaves the reader in little doubt that there is still a long way to go – nine years on.
At the outset in 2010, living in their lovingly handmade Governors Bay home, surrounded by an abundant garden, Rosie and her husband Mark were enjoying the kind of life she wrote about in her memoir-come-cookbook Wild Blackberries. There, surrounded by children and grandchildren, celebrating family milestones; they lived with a happy grace in a beautiful, historic and tranquil place.
As a respected fixture of the Christchurch Arts scene – she was a personal friend of the late Margaret Mahy, and the book is endorsed by Michael Palin. Belton cherished the heritage buildings and institutions of the city. In each of these places resided memories and friendships.
This was the brick and mortar; but Belton also details the experiences of family members living in the red zone or permanently dislocated from their homes and the city they loved. But even in the white zone where Belton lived, the greatest undoing mentally - apart from the sense of failing to protect her beloved grandchildren – was often the EQC.
Time and again the author recalls the despair, frustration and stonewalling of trying to recover insurance payments for the replacement of the most basic of household items, let alone the restoration of the family home to a habitable level. Even given that the family’s perceptions of what was a habitable home had dramatically shifted.
As I read this book, I thought of the difficulties that a well-educated, well-connected and honest woman faced as she tried to convince the authorities of the validity of her claims. I cannot imagine how difficult this would have been for anyone who lacked the eloquence of the author. And if I have made this book sound as if it is too depressing to be worth your time to read; can I urge you to think again?
Living as we do in the Shaky Isles, I think Belton’s personal story is not only emotional and engrossing, it is also educational. If we don’t learn from our history, how can we adequately prepare for our future?
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Renaissance Publishing, $34.99.