The Christchurch earthquakes form the basis of this beautiful piece of writing. Kathleen Gallagher shapes her novel around the life stories of a cluster of people whose lives crisscross like the fault lines under the city. This is not a simple retelling though. Rather, it is an extended elegy on life, death, friendship and survival. The links to the land and the ancestors of this place begin each chapter, tying the story closely to Maori mythology and the spirituality of place.
The story works on so many levels. Yes, there is a basis on events which is elucidated through exquisite details…”they move slowly along beside split open, partly falling buildings, past the trees still standing as if nothing had happened, along Bealey Ave, where the big brick homes of yesteryear have their chimneys fallen through, their walls askew”.
But the people stories are what I loved the most. They are heartbreaking and tragic but hope flits on the edges, moving the story forward. The way strangers help unasked, generosity is freely given and shelter is for sharing.
It is wonderful to see such a prosaic tale arise from the rubble. The photo books, the kid’s stories, the building stories have been told. But here is a piece of literary writing which weaves together all these elements. Photographs of details from the city begin each chapter and are themselves mini masterpieces with their own tales. Gallagher has a close connection to the events and I struggled at times to read such clear expressions of my own experiences. It all came back; the fear, the loss, the humour and the uncertainty of each day. This book has captured it all. I am grateful for her vision, her compassion and her talent in producing this taonga.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
Earthquakes and Butterflies: Otautahi Christchurch
By Kathleen Gallagher
Published by Wickcandle Books