A journalist intercuts the stories of four families from the Thai coastal village of Nam Khem that lost nearly 5,000 inhabitants in the December 2004 tsunami.
Krauss (On the Line, 2004, etc.) was in Thailand at the end of 2004 working on a book about Thai martial arts. But he quickly became involved in the relief effort when the tsunami struck. Although he delays revealing his involvement until the very end, it is evident in his richly detailed text that he had extraordinary access to some remarkable people. He employs the third person but steadfastly maintains the points-of-view of the subjects. He begins with descriptions of Nam Khem, a tin-mining town which, he notes, was in some ways similar to those lawless American camps of the 19th-century (e.g., Deadwood). He tells how his subjects came to the town, how they met one another, fell in love (in some cases) and struggled to build lives as fishermen, divers, boxers, waitresses. Most had very little but family and determination. The author then tells how the tsunami formed and how the waves arrived. Readers may be surprised to learn that more than one hit the Thai beaches; the waves came in a series. The most wrenching moments of this astonishing account involve the desperate struggles of Krauss’s subjects to survive, and then to find their loved ones. Each family suffers grievous loss. The author occasionally takes us away from his principals—we see medical personnel coping with hundreds, then thousands, of injured; we watch policemen attempt to organize and restore order. And, sadly, we watch the human sharks circling. Looters. Swindlers. Corrupt officials skimming supplies and cash. Thugs stealing land. A nasty unnamed Christian organization arrives but withholds help until the (mostly Buddhist) people embrace Jesus; some of the desperate do.
Illuminates our stunning capacity to survive, to tend to one another, to hope. And to deceive, crush and steal from those weaker than ourselves.