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Society / Culture

Ghosts of the Tsunami

(MCD Books / Farrar Straus & Giroux)

Richard Lloyd Parry

The March 2011 Tsunami that followed the biggest earthquake ever known to have struck Japan left 18,500 people dead or missing. The enormity of the loss and devastation appears unimaginable. Yet, in this deeply moving and thought-provoking book the author, a renowned and respected journalist with over two decades of experience living and working in Japan, seeks to do justice to the human side of the disaster that unfolded. The facts and figures are well-known. But statistics alone do not lead to understanding and often bring about a sense of resigned detachment from the horror of such events. With a troubling sense of having completely missed the point of what happened on that day the author set out to understand the experience at one primary school in the path of the Tsunami.
After the water receded, fewer than one in fifty of those dead or missing were schoolchildren. Of the 351 children who perished in the Tsunami, four out of five of them were somewhere other than school at the time. It was much more dangerous to be reunited with your family than to remain with your teachers. Yet, at Okawa primary school, of the 78 pupils who were present at the time of the Tsunami, 74 perished. Out of 11 teachers only one survived. The author examines what happened at Okawa, the wider events of that fateful day, and the parents’ quest for justice through interviews with parents and local people. This is a deeply moving and thought-provoking book that is well-written, emotional yet insightful.

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