by Gretel Ehrlich
After the tsunami of March 2011 devastated the Japanese coast, Gretel Ehrlich immediately set out for the effected areas, visiting survivors and recording their stories. She spoke to men and women from all walks of life – geisha, monks, farmers, fishermen, teachers and others – and heard tale after tale of misery and loss. Towns were practically eliminated from the map. Radiation seeps into the sea and into the soil from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant. But amidst all the death and devastation, Ehrlich saw beauty and even, once in a while, hope.
I guess that my biggest problem with this book is that I didn't fully consider the meaning of the subtitle “A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami”. The book is not about the tsunami and its survivors, exactly. Rather, the book is about Ehrlich's journey through the ruined landscape of post-tsunami Japan; it is her experiences, her reactions, her pain, and her horror that dominate the narrative. If I'm being brutally honest, I'm not that interested in Ehrlich's poetry or her emotional reaction to a catastrophic event she didn't experience firsthand. I wanted to hear about about the men and women who survived the wave and must now rebuild their lives, and not the adopted suffering of a journalist who, at the end of the book, can go home to her life in the United States, leaving the wreckage behind.
Ehrlich does interview several people, and she revisits them at regular intervals, which gives us updates on their lives as they move out of evacuation centers and into government-built temporary housing. Quiet heroes emerge as we learn about men who carried neighbors up hills to save them, or as men and women start their businesses and their lives from scratch. These are definitely the strongest parts of the book, and make it worthwhile reading.
But interspersed with these brief sketches of daily life are Ehrlich's musing, rambling passages that attempt to find meaning in the destruction. She writes poetry (which isn't very good) and pokes fun at Japanese superstitions and spouts Buddhist platitudes about the brevity of life. Some people might find this poetic and beautiful; I just found myself wishing that a more journalistic approach had been taken for this project so the focus would remain with the Japanese and not with an American woman trying to
“fit in” amongst the survivors.
2.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Fashionista Piranha is on a break until August 14th...
2011: Guest Post: James Mace, author of “Soldier of Rome: The Legionary”
2010: The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland
2009: Discussion Question: Sleeping and Reading
2008: Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds by Tom Davis