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FACING THE WAVE by Gretel Ehrlich


A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami

by Gretel Ehrlich

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-90731-8
Publisher: Pantheon

Lyrical, meandering dispatches and eyewitness accounts from the devastation of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Deeply engaged in Japanese culture and history since her first trips to Japan in 1968, poet and nature writer Ehrlich (In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape, 2010, etc.) made several visits to Japan in the months after the shattering earthquake and tsunami. Moving along the coast in the company of her friend Masumi and her family, who live in Sendai, near the epicenter, Ehrlich tried simply to make sense of the unspeakable horror the Japanese experienced, recording accounts by traumatized survivors and her own poignant on-the-ground observations. The tsunami waves wrecked 400 miles of Japan’s northeastern coast and caused the lethal meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, which had long needed repairs, resulting in a national scandal. Exploring the coast where Masumi spent her childhood, wearing protective clothing against radiation, Ehrlich viewed a “wild place of total devastation,” where the sea wall was useless in keeping back the towering waves and entire towns were wiped out. The author records eyewitness blogs, such as by the fisherman who rushed out to sea just after the last big earthquake struck (preceded by several smaller ones) and watched the tsunami devastate his home, before being stuck for days on his boat without food. Ehrlich visited shrines that became evacuation centers and crematoriums during the crisis, and she mixes some Buddhist ideas of perishability with haiku from Matsuo Basho and her own work. Ehrlich renders the enormity of loss in a fashion comprehensible to her American readers.

An eloquent attempt to grasp the Japanese experience of the “The Wave,” which was “center and fringe at once, a totality, both destructive and beautiful.”