Facing the Wave
A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami
By Gretel Ehrlich
Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780307949271, 224pp.
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
List Price: $15.00*
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Kirkus Best Books of the Year • Kansas City Star Best Books of the Year
A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.
The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world.
“Unforgettable . . . a heartrending and unexpected marvel.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A masterpiece of narrative reportage that balances Ehrlich’s own reaction with the voices of the victims.”
“A haunting elegy and story of renewal in a world torn apart by disaster. . . . Ehrlich writes beautifully, with a poet’s sensitivity.”
—The Daily Beast
“Heartbreaking. . . . [Ehrlich brings] personal perspective to the vivid reporting about people whose lives and world were so utterly changed. . . . Accompanying [her] on these difficult but sometimes joyous journeys is reading that’s often hard to bear, but too compelling to set aside.”
—The Seattle Times
“Harrowing. . . . A sobering account of the human and environmental toll [of the tsunami]. . . . Readers of her book can witness the devastation through keen eyes. . . . The resilience of survivors is inspiring.”
“It’s not the numbers, the facts and figures, or the geology, but the stories that matter [in Facing the Wave]. . . . Ehrlich is an observer of the natural world”
“A riveting mosaic of reportage and reflection.”
“Brave. . . . The language is beautiful and frail. . . . Ehrlich tries to define the scope of the tragedy as a mosaic. Survivors’ testimony, scientific measurements, personal journal entries and traditional Japanese poetry are arranged into artful fragments.” —Fredericksburg Freelance Star
“Ehrlich’s book adds flesh and soul and spirit to the bare bones of news reporting, filling the void left by the media and reminding us that real people live behind the headlines.”
—New York Journal of Books
“[Ehrlich’s] focus is aftermath, how the survivors of Japan’s March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continue on past cataclysm. [She] collects their stories, tying them together thoughtfully, even musically, with poetry, science, and her own observations, to achieve a sort of universal empathy that comes from unimaginable circumstance.”
—Santa Fe New Mexican
“Ehrlich is a lyrical and sensitive writer who has written about nature and her manifold mysteries. . . . Facing the Wave ends on a high and holy note of hope.”
—Spirituality and Practice Magazine