Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami

Gretel Ehrlich. Pantheon, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-307-90731-8
Rarely has "you-are-here" reporting been as eloquent and searing as Ehrlich's visit to Japan's Tohoku coast. This is where, in March of 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami "devastated almost four hundred miles of Japan's northeastern coast and caused the cooling apparatus of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to fail, resulting in three hydrogen explosions and the massive nuclear meltdowns in four nuclear reactors." Ehrlich journeys throughout the region with Japanese friends, meeting survivors and hearing their harrowing stories. With stories of water that "was black with diesel and gas, sewage, dirt, and blood," this book is not for the faint of heart, but memorable portraits emerge: a woman learns to use a backhoe to dig for her daughter's body; a man carries one town's beloved geisha to safety on his back. Meanwhile, an uncle of Ehrlich's friend has made his peace, observing: "I lost everything. Now I feel better." The vividness of these people and the invitation to readers to meet and know them make up for the book's one major fault: a seeming reluctance on Ehrlich's part to define her own connections to Japan and the people she clearly knows and loves there. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
Release date: 02/01/2013
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