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Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami Hardcover – February 12, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gifted, adventurous, and extolled nature writer Ehrlich has abiding connections to Japan, so she returned there soon after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. With the valiant assistance of her guides and interpreters, especially photographer Yajima Masumi, she explored the devastated Tohoku coast and listened to survivors’ stories as they endured strong daily aftershocks. Fisherman Kikuchi-san describes being swept into a 30-foot tsunami wave of water “black with diesel and gas, sewage, dirt, and blood” and dense with smashed houses, boats, cars, and bodies. Others remember running for their lives as the water surged toward them and seeing loved ones drown as entire towns were erased. Having farmed in the Sendai region for centuries, Masumi’s family struggles to replant after the tsunami only to lose it all again in a brutal typhoon. Many of the people Ehrlich meets, including Ito Tsuyako, a lovely 84-year-old geisha, are determined to adapt, but others have no hope. And the catastrophe is ongoing, as radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant contaminates land and sea. Ehrlich’s invaluable chronicle subtly raises questions about coastal disasters, global warming, and nuclear power as the beauty and precision of her prose and her profound and knowledgeable insights into nature’s might and matters spiritual and cultural evoke a deep state of awe and sympathy. --Donna Seaman

Review

**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
**Kansas City Star Best Books of the Year (2013)**

“Ehrlich offers always startling work that has deservedly won her a PEN New England’s Henry David Thoreau Prize for excellence in nature writing…expect first-rate observation offered with intimate insight.” –Library Journal

“Lyrical, meandering dispatches and eyewitness accounts from the devastation of the 2011 tsunami in Japan…Ehrlich renders the enormity of loss in a fashion comprehensible to her American readers…eloquent.” –Kirkus  

“Gifted, adventurous, and extolled nature writer Ehrlich has abiding connections to Japan, so she returned there soon after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami…Ehrlich’s invaluable chronicle subtly raises questions about coastal disasters, global warming, and nuclear power as the beauty and precision of her prose and her profound and knowledgeable insights into nature’s might and matters spiritual and cultural evoke a deep state of awe and sympathy.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist 

“Ms. 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 

“As Ehrlich concludes after her nine months there, ‘We can see the pain of loss and swing the other way, encountering the unexpected joy of survival.’ Her own account in this brief but unforgettable book is itself a heartrending and unexpected marvel.” —San Francisco Chronicle 

“Skilled reportage…As Ehrlich concludes, ‘We can see the pain of loss and swing the other way, encountering the unexpected joy of survival.’ Her own account, both harrowing and beautifully told, in this brief but unforgettable book is itself a heartrending and unexpected marvel.” —Huffington Post 

“Heartbreaking…[Ehrlich’s] reverence for this Asian culture allows her to add personal perspective to the vivid reporting about people whose lives and world were so utterly changed…Accompanying Ehrlich on these difficult but sometimes joyous journeys is reading that’s often hard to bear, but too compelling to set aside.” —Seattle Times 

“A haunting elegy and story of renewal in a world torn apart by disaster following the 2011 disasters in Japan…Erhlich writes beautifully, with a poet’s sensitivity towards not only what to write but also what to observeNewsweek Daily Beast 

“A poetic, heartbreaking look at the immediate aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami – and all that followed…In sum, the book is a masterpiece of narrative reportage that balances Ehrlich’s own reaction with the voices of the victims.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune 

“A riveting mosaic of reportage and reflection.” —Elle Magazine  

“Brave…The language is beautiful and frail, but readers will not find a conventional ending. Instead, Facing the Wave ends with the troublesome realization that the same chaos could crash into one’s own life.” —Fredericksburg Freelance Star 

“Gretel 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   

“[Gretel Ehrlich's] frequent theme is the relationship of people to the environment and how often harsh and ever-changing natural conditions affect their lives. Here, her focus is aftermath, how the survivors of Japan's March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continue on post cataclysm. Ehrlich 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 blends lyrical prose and astute reportage in this portrait of Japan’s splintered Tohoku coast months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.” —Kansas City Star, Best Books of 2013
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307907317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307907318
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Trudie Barreras VINE VOICE on January 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is to documentary writing what Haiku is to epic poetry. Although it has all the grim realism of factual description of the catastrophic events of the tsunami, nuclear power plant meltdown and subsequent typhoon which beset Japan in 2011, it is told in vivid understatement.

Ehrlich is an outside observer, yet one who manages to be intimately and personally connected with those who have survived the incredible losses resulting from this multilayered disaster. Although it is by no means a polemic, she manages to present just enough hard data about the unbelievable contamination caused by the power plant meltdown and the incompetence and perfidy of the government to make it plain that the people might have been able to cope much better had this been "only" a natural disaster. She provides grim awareness that not only the people in the immediate vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, but those elsewhere, perhaps even unknowing people in Third World countries where nuclear-contaminated rice is being unloaded by unscrupulous profit-mongers, may suffer the long-term effects of this disaster.

Far more important than the description of the material destruction she viewed, however, is Ehrlich's immersion in the ongoing lives of the several people who serve as her guides and contribute their stories to her narrative. Although this story is grippingly painful, it is also exquisitely beautiful. In a dream sequence near the end, she says, "We see how pain and joy are not opposites, but spark off each other. We can see the pain of loss and swing the other way, encountering the unexpected joy of survival."

As Gretel Ehrlich weaves her simple yet intricately nuanced story, this truth is bountifully shared with the reader.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Sanchez VINE VOICE on February 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a beautifully written travelogue of the devastation of the 3/11 tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan. I should say, though, that the book is less about the destruction and more about the great loss, determination and spirit of the survivors. Rather than follow the story of a particular individual or family, the author instead chose to travel around northeastern Japan with a group of friends and acquaintances soon after the disaster and writes of her observations, conversations and experience, which included more radioactive exposure than recommended, given the state of the Fukushima nuclear power plant at the time. Her polished narrative makes this book work, even if each chapter comes across as disjointed from the next at times, and thus feels like a travelogue and not a recitation of events or single story. In the almost two years following the devastation of the tsunami, the world has moved on and mourned the loss of others due to tragic events, man-made or not, but books like this are important because they remind us of the ongoing pain and suffering constantly around us, the power of mother nature and the beauty of the human spirit.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Gretel Ehrlich's memoir "Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami" is the harrowing tale about the lives of the people after Japan's March 2011 tsunami. The earthquake-and-tsunami devastated almost four hundred miles of Japan's northern coast, killed 15,878 people and caused a massive nuclear reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex.
Gretel returned to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast for nine months to travel and live among the fishermen, farmers, teachers, monks, wanderers and an elderly geisha who survived. Her powerful poetic writing tells the inspirational and heartrending stories of those who survived the wave and live near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant where radiation spews into the ocean and air.
After three months the ruined coast is still gray dust thick with crematorium ash, the flat blue Pacific Ocean has ruined, broken, bloated corpse-thickened water, the air smells of decomposing wildlife and burned bodies and the radiation moves through flesh with no scent at all.
After six months Gretel says each daily 5.7 or larger earthquake reflects a shift in the mind. A jolt and lurch to grab the edge of the futon. She says the ocean's credibility has been marred, "Who can trust it to move anyone here and into the future?"
Although the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is a radioactive wound surrounded by ghost towns (places that may never be inhabited again) it's also a hot spot and "fortress of sacrifice and duty." Volunteers in their 50's and older work there in order to spare younger men contamination.
Elizabeth Oliver, the founder of Animal Refuge Kansai, and Henry Tricks, an Economist, were some of the first people to rescue animals inside Fukushima's twenty-kilometer zone. "Elizabeth said, "...
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sara Howard VINE VOICE on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a fascinating account of the tsumani that hit Japan's Pacific coast in 2010.
I watched on the news as the wave absolutely destroyed a huge section of cities, towns, farmlands and more. I think that over 20,000 people were killed but it is probably more.
This was a really horrible disaster and Ehrlic paints with a broad brush the aftermath and consequences of the people, places and devastation. Ehrlic lived and studied in Japan for many years. What better person to describe this?
She travelled from town to town and city to city to meet the survivors and tell their stories of grief and heroism. She wrote a lot on the meltdown of 4 Nuclear Power Plants. The radioactive clouds and fumes will last a long time.
It was interesting to me to find out what people can do with something like this.
Would Americans be as brave? I hope we never have to find out. Japan sits on two plates of which one is subducting underneath the other.
I recommend this book for it's good research and descriptions of how Japan survived.
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