New Zealand’s most important book in 2014 was Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager. This year it is The villa at the edge of the empire: One hundred ways to read a city by Fiona Farrell.
I thought about how to express its power – it’s about Christchurch, but is bigger than that. It contains deep wisdom and a powerful historical sense. It is about the world. So I’ve decided to sample Fiona’s words – here are ten quotes.
1: This city took time to assemble. (p.55)
2: An earthquake is not simply a geological event. It occurs within a specific social and political context. (p.73)
3: For a second, as the entire city is flung into the air, there is unison. Then we fall back to earth and the map smashes into a hundred tiny pieces. (p.88)
4: In this city, it is easy to feel lost. (p. 103)
5: In the meantime, through the cracks, other kinds of art have emerged. The art gallery has been closed, but artists have covered walls newly exposed by demolition with imagery and colour. (p.129)
6: The personal is political. (p.158)
7: Forgiveness and retribution are a theme in L’Aquila, as they are in Christchurch. (p.224)
8: We are ‘stoical’. We are ‘strong’ and ‘southern’. To complain is to be a ‘carper’ or a ‘moaner’. It is a sign of weakness. Viewed from another city in another country, however, this resilience can also be seen as a weird suppressed passivity. (p.237)
9: I take a kind of deep comfort in reading thoughts prompted by an earthquake 2000 years ago and thousands of kilometres away. I like the vision of the world as a squirming thing filled with breath, not so far from the Polynesian vision of the great woman lying on her back with us all, naked as newborn kits, upon her belly. (p.248)
10: I’ve come to love this city … now it seems fragile, vulnerable and precious in that vulnerability, as do other cities in this country no matter how cocky they may have tried to be … (p343)