Pensive travels in the wake of one of the world’s most devastating recent disasters, the Tohoku earthquake of 2011.
As Parry (People Who Eat Darkness, 2012, etc.), Tokyo bureau chief of the Times of London, writes, Japan is readier than any other nation for disaster, especially earthquake. Tokyo buildings are meant to stand up to shaking, even if they’re highly flammable, and Japanese citizens have been drilled and know what to do. So, too, the author: “I had lived in Japan for sixteen years,” he writes, “and I knew, or believed that I knew, a good deal about earthquakes.” Yet, when the seafloor started shaking off the northeastern coast of Honshu on March 11, 2011, only a few experts could foresee what would soon unfold: the destruction of the nuclear reactor at Fukushima, the landfall of a wall of water 120 feet high, and a wave of death as people struggled to find safety on higher ground. An enterprising journalist, Parry visited the devastation in the immediate aftermath, and he recounts his experiences among grieving and dazed residents, many of those survivors having lost children as schools were swallowed up in seawater. The author’s narrative is appropriately haunted and haunting. One memorable moment comes when he describes someone brought back from the brink of madness by a perhaps unlikely method: namely, being sprinkled with holy water and thus freed from the hold of “the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead.” Parry’s set pieces come to have a certain predictability: expert–victim–expert–survivor. Yet they retain their urgency, for, as he writes, it won’t be long before another earthquake of similar or even greater intensity strikes Tokyo proper, with its millions of inhabitants; in that event, “the Nankai earthquake, which might strike at any time, could kill more people than four atomic bombs.”
A sobering and compelling narrative of calamity.