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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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
VINE VOICEon February 13, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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
Format: HardcoverVine 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, "...the animals didn't even have a chance to run for their lives."
Gretel says there's a massive mat of Tohoku debris crossing the Pacific Ocean. It was discovered six months later by a Russian sailing ship. The captain reported that it took seven days to sail through the streaming wreckage and estimated it's weight to be between five and twenty million tons.
An Abbots daughter tells grieving parents in her group, "Those who past away remind us that we will all die...they gave their lives to remind us to live!" One grieving mother dug though the mud with a rented backhoe for nine months before her daughter's remains were found off the coast.
"Facing the Wave"is a stunning portrait of the challenges the survivors faced after Japan's 3/11 disaster.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 4, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have been drawn to read a lot about the tsunami in Japan. When this all happened there I was aghast at what those poor people had been through. About the time that they were getting back on their feet after one trauma, then another would hit and then another. It seems to be that they have shown their strength as a people through all of this and I want to read more about them and their individual stories of survival. This book was not what I thought I would get after reading the cover.
This book seems to be more about the author. She seems to easily go into lengthy talk about how SHE feels about certain experiences surrounding these events rather than how the survivors have gotten thru their ordeals.
I almost wanted her to just get out of the way of the people she was covering so we could her THEIR story and not how she felt about it.
I would save my money and my time. I think there are surely better books out there covering this horrible time for that country.
My heart and prayers still go out to those people who have been thru more than their share of tragedy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
March 11, 2011.

For many, the mere mention of that date is like the ringing of a massive bronze bell, an interplay of sound and echo and thought ... and memory. For those of us with ties to Japan, emotions can run high, even at a two-year remove.

Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami begins as a writer's journey through Japan in the wake of the devastation of the Tohoku Earthquake and the devastating aftermath of a tsunami, multiple aftershocks, and meltdowns and explosions at nuclear power plants. The author, Gretel Ehrlich, begins by bearing witness to physical and emotional devastation. Along the way, her focus shifts, and she begins giving voice to those who endured the unbearable and surmounted their own suffering to carry on. The passages that recount residents' memories, choices, and actions are the most magnetic, authentic aspects of the book.

News stories after March 11 recounted individual stories of bravery and perseverance, and some credited this to a national or cultural stoicism. However, these blanket characterizations are a disservice, and one that Ehrlich refuses to propagate. Instead, she weaves together passages of spare, luminous, almost metaphysical prose with conversations with a series of people whose souls underwent seismic shakes and aftershocks during the nine months following that March day.

Several days after the earthquake and tsunami, I asked some teenagers whether it was better to live or survive, and what those words might mean in the aftermath of tragedy. They talked about existing and passing time, vs. coping and overcoming. One pointed out that the choice that leaves you healthiest is acknowledging the current reality, but promising yourself that you will work to change the parts you don't like. Examined through that prism, "Facing the Wave" conveys a continuum of choices and their effects on the individuals and those around them.

This is a carefully crafted book that really can only be consumed in small portions; it is too sharp, too beautiful, and too provoking to do otherwise. My copy is tear-dotted and pencil-marked, and I imagine yours will be, too.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon January 27, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book's promotional material promises those three ingredients, and this book delivers on all counts. Gretel Ehrlich's strength at capturing the post-tsunami devastation in Japan comes through not just in her words, but the stories and perspectives of the dozens of her interview subjects and acquaintances.

The March 2011 disaster killed thousands, but like many catastrophes the destruction and loss of live was too vast to personally relate too. The best 'compliment' one can give a book like this is that it brings the story down to a human level. Ehrlich relates many stories of individual tragedies of wrong decisions, bad luck, or not enough time. Because the stories are so personally connected to the people she describes, it's no longer an unrelatable number like "20,000 people killed or missing" but specific tragedies.

This is all done through interviews with the survivors, and details about the destroyed villages all along the coast. With a natural calamity, there's no one to blame, so the narrative can focus on picking up the pieces.

Of course, the mistakes surrounding the nuclear meltdown is another aspect of this story. Ehrlich obviously can't get that close to the reactor itself, but does a good job of reporting the radiation threat and ongoing problems. There is some blame to go around.

Because this tragedy occured in a first-world country, maybe it's easier to present such a strong narrative. I'm not aware of a similar book (but I haven't looked) written about the much worse Indonesian tsunami, but that also occured over a much larger area. Because we saw this even occur on television, with aerial photography almost as it was happening, it seems more in our consciousness.

Any large-scale disaster has hundreds or thousands of individual stories within it. They are not happy to read, but they do remind us of the survivors who struggle on.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Like most American's, my horror over the tragedy which befell Japan was limited to what was broadcast on the nightly news. Frankly, the images were so direct, so completely devastating that I turned it off. When this came up for review, I originally passed it by but later decided to order it based upon some of the excellent prior reviews.

I'm glad I did because rather than a story of tragedy, this is clearly a story of triumph. Yes - the devastation is beyond belief but the author does a beautiful job portraying the resilience, pride and compassion of everyday people managing in circumstances which are nearly unimagineable.

The personal stories are short but poignant. Each seems to represent a very different approach yet all share a commonality of survival. Those that lived through it show amazing ability to rebuild, get on with life and take consolation in rebuilding. It is haunting in places, lovely and touching in others. From outright acts of heroism to subtle, oh so very quiet forms of self-sacrifice (such as the tendency of the elders to eat the more contaminated fish while leaving the best choices for the children) this presents the best...and sometimes the worst...of the human condition. The fact that a tragedy like this could happen anytime or anywhere should send a chill down the spine of every person yet at the same time, the fact that people can rise above such utter devastation is a testament to the resilience of the human spirity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 17, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After the immediate drama of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown was dealt with, it seemed like the Japanese tsunami, the recovery efforts, and the tragedy itself faded from the public consciousness. I was very interested in this collection because I wanted to read about the efforts people were going through after the tsunami to go back to their lives after having witnessed and experienced this devastation.

At its best moments, this book manages to capture the stories of people as they struggled to survive while wave after wave tossed them like toys and brought buildings and city infrastructure down around them. It relates their thoughts about surviving, their worries over loved ones, and their sorrow when these loved ones did not reappear. However, this book does not always operate at that level. Sometimes it does delve a little bit too far into the author's perceptions or reflections on what the people were feeling instead of using direct material. I don't really blame the book for that though - it states clearly that it is about both the author and her love of Japan as well as the stories of tsunami victims, so I should have been more prepared going in.

I think that anyone who wants to read stories of the victims of the tsunami that the small flaws in this volume are easily overlooked and that the individual experiences shine through.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 20, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Gretle Ehrlich, as expected, brings humanity and compassion to this moving view of life after the tsunami in Japan in 2010. With heartbreaking insight, she portrays the lives of some of the survivors...and some of those who did not survive. This could be too difficult for some to read but I feel that it is so well-written that it overcomes as well as showcases this monsterous catastrophe. Not a long book but certainly worth the read from a master.
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