Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 7, 2021

Time to Remember, by Janna Ruth

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the devastating Christchurch Earthquake.

The earthquake occurred in Christchurch on Tuesday 22 February 2011 at 12:51 p.m. local time. The earthquake struck the Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South Island and was centred 6.7 kilometres south-east of the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-most populous city. The earthquake caused widespread damage across Christchurch, killing 185 people in the nation’s fifth-deadliest disaster.

Christchurch’s central city and eastern suburbs were badly affected, with damage to buildings and infrastructure already weakened by the magnitude 7.1 Canterbury earthquake of 4 September 2010 and its aftershocks. Significant liquefaction affected the eastern suburbs, producing around 400,000 tonnes of silt. The earthquake was felt across the South Island and parts of the lower and central North Island. While the initial quake only lasted for approximately 10 seconds, the damage was severe because of the location and shallowness of the earthquake’s focus in relation to Christchurch as well as previous quake damage.(Wikipedia, 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, lightly edited to remove some technical jargon, footnotes and unnecessary links, viewed 7/2/21)

Janna Ruth’s timely novel came recommended to me by NZ publicist Elizabeth Heritage who persuaded me to overcome my reservations about self-published books. As Elizabeth says on her promo page successful publicity is all about relationships, and though we have never met, she thought I would like this one, and she assured me that it was professionally edited, and she was right!

Time to Remember is the story of some Canterbury University students who were children when the quakes hit.  They are now coming of age, but the usual YA preoccupations take second place to the real business of the novel.  These students, busily getting on with their lives, are living with personal trauma, which some of them don’t even know that they have.

Natalie, a Kiwi of Asian descent, is a volunteer at the student newspaper, ‘Canta’.  She wants to be a journalist and is a talented writer,  But she’s in a self-destructive relationship with Aidan, who sleeps around behind her back and takes advantage of her professional perspective on the paper.  He often leaves her to do hours of hard work before the deadline—when his is the only paid position on the paper and he is the one who should take responsibility for it.

Natalie conceives the idea of a commemorative edition comprising student memories of how the quake affected them.  Everyone thinks it’s a good idea because it releases long suppressed trauma that, despite counselling, hasn’t been properly acknowledged because they were children at the time.  All except Josh, who is vociferous in his opposition and is spectacularly rude to Natalie in the way that he voices his objections.

Well, of course, he has ‘issues’, and his character also plays the role of an adolescent Mr Darcy.  The first part of the book depicts both pride and prejudice, and a good bit of pettiness as well.  But the reader learns the reasons for Josh’s objectionable behaviour when Natalie uses her instincts for good journalism to check the register of deaths.  Josh is livid when she gently confronts him with what she knows, but those of us who know our Austen soon recognise that these two are destined to be together.  Part of the interest in this novel then becomes a question of how this comes about, given the entanglements of their existing relationships and the nature of their personalities.  Natalie (whose own issues emerge in due course) eventually finds out that Aidan is a low-life whose posturing about ‘open relationships’ is a mask for sheer selfishness, and Josh has to start on a path to recovery when he steadfastly refuses to get professional help because he’s in denial. Like real life, it’s very messy, and it’s a situation exacerbated by the claustrophobic microcosm of university society, centred in the small world of the student newspaper.

Napier Museum, photo by The Spouse

While all this is going on, the call-out for contributions to the commemorative edition results in a flood of stories.  The depiction of memories arising from the quake from a child’s perspective reminded me of an exhibition that we saw in a museum in Napier, a city that was entirely rebuilt after the 1931 earthquake.  To quote from my travel blog:

We started off on the ground floor with a display about the 1931 Earthquake.  We had already read about this, and seen the informative video at the Art Deco Trust, but this museum exhibition rounded out the historical facts with personal stories.  There were stories from people who lived through it, including some poignant ones from people who were small children at the time, and there were some treasured trinkets that had been salvaged.  There was also a digital display on a banner, that had voices of the people superimposed over diagrams that showed the transitions as the land rose up and changed the landscape while below it the Richter Scale was climbing.  It was very vivid.

I used the word ‘poignant’ to try to convey the emotional impact that the children’s memories had on me.  I don’t even cry at funerals, but that exhibition brought me close to tears, and so did the memories expressed in Time to Remember.  There’s a particularly poignant scene where Natalie takes Josh to the Residential Red Zone, a vast area of land where it is unsafe to rebuild and 8000 homes were acquired by the government and demolished or removed.  Standing where her house was, she draws a vivid word-picture of every room, the garden, and what could be seen through the windows.  I had to do this myself, standing in the ashes, to explain where things had been for the insurance assessor after a house-fire at my MIL’s place while she was overseas on holiday.  It is what bushfire victims have to do, and people who’ve suffered any kind of disaster to their homes.  Although I had only lived there for six months and it was not my childhood home, that house held many good memories for me and it was a profoundly painful experience.

The novel also shows how both adults and children growing into adolescence use drugs and alcohol as a crutch to block out anguish.  From another museum exhibit that we saw in Auckland we learned that quakes are much more common than we in Australia realise, and so for survivors of the Christchurch quake, knowing that the likelihood of another is never very far away must make it even harder to deal with the trauma.  You can’t tell children that it’s all over when it’s not true.

Janna Ruth writes in German and in English, and you can find out more about her here.

Image credit:

Author: Janna Ruth
Title: Time to Remember
Publisher: self-published, Janna Ruth, 2021
ISBN: 9780473544898
Source: Review copy from the author, via Elizabeth Heritage Publicist

Available from Fishpond: Time to Remember, $26.30 AUD


  1. This sounds really good. My last trip to Christchurch was in 2016 and the city still wore so much evidence of this tragedy.


    • Sorry, 2014!


      • We didn’t get there on our trip in 2019. We were on the north island, for the Auckland Writers Festival, and we had to keep our trip short because my MIL was in Aged Care and we didn’t want to be away for long.

        Liked by 1 person

        • We did both islands (as we did on our previous trip) but I particularly love Christchurch and could have done with some more time there. I’d like to go to New Zealand on my own in the future and experience it a whole new way (more culture, less nature trekking and no ski fields).


  2. I’m glad you had a good self-published experience. I think publishers will be increasingly marginalised in the near future, just as news media companies are right now.


    • I hope not. Most of the self-published books I’ve come across have been disappointing… and think of all the people who love books and writing and would lose their jobs. Some of our best writers have a day job in publishing…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I have not been to New Zealand (embarrassing in the context of how many other countries I’ve been to). Dear friends moved there at the end on 2019, so we will be visiting as soon as we are able (they’re in Nelson which is in the north of the South Island).

    When I think of the Christchurch earthquakes I immediately think of Twitter. Twitter wasn’t as ‘noisy’ then and it was more real-time as opposed to algorithms- I distinctly recall seeing the first tweets about the quake as it was happening. I became glued to Twitter (a friend was living there at the time) because there was more information there than there was on the news. It was the first time I realised the role of social media in delivering ‘news’.


    • TBH we always used to say that we were ‘saving’ NZ for when we were too old to travel anywhere else. But it turned out to be a case of when a parent was too old for us to travel anywhere else.
      LOL Our biggest mistake when choosing holidays close to home was Norfolk Island. For the last three years of my MIL’s life we wanted to be within 5-6 hours flying time to get home. I’d had a nightmare rush back from Belgium when my father was gravely ill, 36 hours not knowing whether we would be there in time, so we said never again. What we didn’t know when we booked Norfolk Island was that there are flights only twice a week, so we could have been marooned there unable to get home all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kind of crazy to think you can get home from Belgium faster than Norfolk Island!


        • Yes. We were just lucky that nothing happened while we were away…


  4. I’ve just seen that this is due for release in UK end of this month so have added to my wishlist. visiting Christchurch and then one of the communities further north along the coast that was cut off by the quake, was a sobering experience. There is an excellent exhibition in Christchurch that sounds similar to the one you saw in Aukland because it uses people’s testimonies of that day.


    • Oh, that’s good news, the press release didn’t say anything about international availability… I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.


  5. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already. I’m glad you had an interesting experience with this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read any self published books.


    • Oh Pam, self-published authors approach me all the time, trying to get publicity for their books. Obviously they haven’t read my review policy, which tells you something about their attitude and lack of respect for what I try to do here. Authors like that probably don’t research which publishers are likely to be interested in their books as well, and then they’re upset when they’re rejected.
      One fellow who’d written something I wouldn’t have read if it had come gift-wrapped in solid gold from the most prestigious publisher in the world, got really angry and kept battering me with emails lecturing me about how I should step out of my comfort zone &c.
      The problem is that amongst all the dross there probably is the occasional brilliant book. Bernice Barry self-published her lovely book Georgiana Molloy, the Mind that Shines, and then it was taken up by a commercial publisher. So I will read a self-published book if it’s reviewed by someone whose opinion I trust.
      But I’m not willing to wade through the dross to find the occasional exception for two reasons: I want to enjoy my reading and feel confident I’ll do that even before I open the cover, and also because I review everything I read and if a self-published book is dreadful, I’ll warn others about it. That doesn’t help the author and that’s not actually what I want to do, I like to support writers and give their work publicity that will bring them sales and respect in the industry. But that wish to be helpful never transcends my loyalty to the reader who parts with her money and time for a book and deserves to know about poor spelling, lousy formatting, incoherent structures, unconvincing characterisation or casual racism and sexism that’s not intended to be part of the characterisation and so on.
      As it says on my review policy I’ve come to the decision about self-publishing through respect for the work that editors do.


  6. […] My family reunions are Time to Remember, by Janna Ruth […]


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