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

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  288 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
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, p ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 12th 2013 by Pantheon
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Too episodic for my tastes. The author travels in Japan after the earthquake / tsunami / and nuclear power melt down in 2011. Each chapter is a short little episode, many quite varied in character. There are blog entries, scientific facts about the melt down, criticism of government policies and travel notes. The best parts are poetically written; they relate how particular individuals experienced the waves, the fear, the typhoon.

Sumalee Montano, with her Japanese accent, gave a delightful rend
Terri Jacobson
Facing the Wave is a chronicle of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant meltdown that took place in northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The devastation was overwhelming; 20,000 people were missing or dead and complete towns were destroyed. The Oshika Peninsula sank 4 feet (1.2 meters) and moved 17 feet (5 meters) east. There were tremendous amounts of radiation released into the atmosphere and the sea.

The author, Gretel Ehrlich, was familiar with Japan before the disaster. She is a long-time stude
Sep 21, 2013 Karen rated it liked it
FACING THE WAVE describes the recent Japanese earthquake, Tsunami, and tropical storm. Although I appreciate Ehrlich's effort to document these terrible disasters, I am disappointed by this book. I love some of Ehrlich's writing, and this book made the long list for the National Book Awards in nonfiction. But for me, the style was too choppy; FACING THE WAVE is largely a catalog of brief encounters with people or descriptions of events that Ehrlich experienced while on two trips to Japan after t ...more
Joshua Buhs
Mar 12, 2016 Joshua Buhs rated it it was ok
Doesn't quite cohere.

In so many ways, this book is pitched at me. It is told in a fragmented, impressionistic style, with unexpected jumps. The author has a poetic voice. She starts from a single events and meditates on big questions.

The subject is close to me. It is about the tsunami that hit northern Japan in 2011, the one that melted down the nuclear reactor that still leaks radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. I lived in northern Japan for three years, from 2003-2006.

So, I really wante
Jun 21, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Japan is the only country in the world to have felt the wrath of a nuclear weapon. Within the space of three days, it experienced this twice. Sixty-six years later, Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami that, combined, was 8,000 times more powerful that the atomic bombs dropped in 1945. With the waters of the Pacific Ocean still soaking Japanese soil contaminated by radiation, Gretel Ehrlich writes of the people who survived.

There's a romanticism we tend to associate with the Japanese. Perha
Moving, thoughtful work on the Japanese people who survived the tsunami several years ago. Gretel Ehrlich, the author was a scholar of Japanese poetry and art, she has a strong connection to the people there. As an observer and writer, she took down the stories of survivors over several months. The first part tells of survivors of the first wave when houses, buildings and people disappeared. Later survivor accounts discuss the aftermath of living near the area still or having to leave for housin ...more
Kasey Jueds
Nov 13, 2013 Kasey Jueds rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, nature
I've been a fan of Gretel Ehrlich for such a long time. Her deep sense of ethics. Her courage, both intellectual (she is unafraid to swerve away from straight narrative, from facts, and so all of her books are a--to me--magical blend of the reportorial, the descriptive, and the lyric) and physical (she spent months researching this particular book in Japan, where she was exposed to high levels of radiation, continuing earthquakes, a typhoon). Her tremendous and palpable passion for the natural w ...more
John Benson
Mar 28, 2013 John Benson rated it liked it
Gretel Ehrlich is an excellent writer about different places, especially the Arctic. In this book, she visits the area of Japan that was hardest hit by the Tsunami in March 2011 three and nine months after the event. She goes up and down the coastline talking to people as they learn to survive in the tsunami's aftermath. One gets to know these people well and how they learn to deal with their new lives. Her style is quite poetic and sad.
Nov 14, 2016 Julie rated it it was ok
(2.5 stars)
Oct 14, 2016 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating perspective from the points of view of genuine Japanese people whose spirits and determination shine through the tragedy and its aftermath; distracted by the author's insertion of her own gaijin perspectives voiced in overwrought metaphors and stilted poetic expressions.
Apr 22, 2013 Beth rated it really liked it
Like everyone else around the world, I watched in horror as Japan's coast was devastated by the tsunami on March 11, 2011. The horror was mingled with an awe so strong that it is hard to put into words - Mother Nature's strength and power were absolutely overwhelming, even from the safety of my living room so many miles away. As our concern grew for the exchange students we had hosted, both after the original earthquake and then after the tsunami, it was heartbreaking to see the expanse of the w ...more
Charlie Canning
Aug 14, 2013 Charlie Canning rated it it was amazing
A poetic, dream-like meditation on the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku and the resultant and ongoing disaster in Fukushima

After the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, naturalist and poet Gretel Ehrlich visited the area three times in six months to gather material for Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami. Drawing on first person accounts from fisherman and farmers, Buddhist priests, aid workers and teachers, Ehrlich has fashione
Jun 07, 2013 Sx3 rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate to receive this book via Advanced Reader's Copy although it has since been made available as of February 2013.

I've been reading Facing the Wave by Gretel Ehrlich in small chunks for about 3 weeks now. It is a slim volume of collected encounters and poetry by Ehrlich when she went to visit the ravaged Tohoku area in June following the March triple disaster.

The stories of hope and despair and forced change and tragedy so big that it is difficult to comprehend at times are both comp
Mar 12, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it
I can't imagine trying to understand the Japanese earthquake/tsunami disaster of 3/11/11 without reading this book. The short, episodic chapters recount the author's visit to the area after the disaster and her encounters with survivors and their stories. She narrates her growing understanding of how the larger picture of radiation contamination and the ecological disaster continues to affect the people, the land and the future. It was a very sobering, personal look at an event I can't even begi ...more
Jun 14, 2013 Valerie rated it it was amazing
This books is one of the best ones I have read on the subject of the March 2011 8.0 earthquake and accompanying tsunamis which happened on the Pacific Ocean side of the Japanese island of Honshu. The author had been to Japan many times since 1968, and when she heard about this disaster, she immediately went over to the area to get a first hand account from several survivors, and visited the 367 miles or so of devastation caused by these natural events, which in turn caused the meltdown of the Fu ...more
Apr 28, 2016 Price rated it it was amazing
How does one describe the ineffable? One needs to dissect the it and break it down into little pieces to provide partial views of its fabric. In this case, the author's approach consists primarily of meeting people who survived "the wave" and allowing them to share their perspectives and expereiences on their past, present, and future. It is a poetic and poignant effort. Allow me to share an excerpt:

"Moon after moon light up the ocean's destruction. The yen surges and gold drops. Night is bright
Cindy Matthews
Apr 23, 2014 Cindy Matthews rated it it was ok
A very well written book on a worthy topic, but it's just horribly depressing and offers the reader little hope. You come away from it feeling there's nothing anyone can do to help the victims of the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant disaster since they're resigned to their fate and believe they got what they deserved because of where they lived at the time of the event. (With no cultural concept that God loves them as unique individuals, no wonder their suicide rate is so high!) I'm sure this ...more
Apr 27, 2015 Ray rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"Facing the Wave" is probably another very good book which I shouldn't have given up on, but I stopped reading it after a few chapters. What I got out of it was how the nuclear accident at Fukushima impacted families in Japan. That should have been interesting, but I suppose we all have styles which we favor, and this book never grabbed me. The writing style was almost poetic, and from a technical perspective, I felt the author took too many liberties with facts regarding Fukushima. The nuclear ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing
I have read several tsunami books lately, but this the best. Ehrlich manages to make this gruesome story personal and in many ways beautiful. She also makes the science clear and understandable. She mixes in poems here and there, but really the whole book feels like poetry. A lover of Japanese art and culture, Ehrlich visited in June, September and December of 2011, touring the damaged areas and talking to the survivors. We learn so much about these people who are determined to go on despite los ...more
Susan Paxton
Apr 07, 2013 Susan Paxton rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-affairs
Beautifully written almost as a series of impressionistic vignettes, this book comes from Gretel Ehrlich's visit to Japan just after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Staying with local people for several months, Ehrlich discovered and reveals the "ground truth" that seems to escape mainstream accounts. For example, while the Japanese nuclear industry has claimed that the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima were the result of the tsunami, it becomes obvious that the plant was mu ...more
Apr 11, 2013 Sara rated it it was amazing
What an exquisite book! This is the rare book that I will read over and over because there is so much content, and so much to absorb. You could read it for the information, the writing, the philosophy, etc.

When I first picked it up I was a little afraid, and had some thoughts about whether "Disaster Lit" was a genre I really wanted to engage with. But, as a dedicated Japanophile, I always read anything about Japan, and though there have been some accounts of the tsunami, they have mostly been ha
Patrick Hanlon
Jan 01, 2016 Patrick Hanlon rated it it was amazing
In the face of as numbing and overwhelming a story as the Tohoku Tsunami of March 11, 2011, Gretel Ehrlich puts together an account of the human tragedy the continues to unfold. Ehrlich brings a poetry of fluvial lyricism and to capture the immensity of the natural forces that were unleashed that afternoon and captures the stoic resignation and determination of the Japanese that she encounters during her travels through the Sendai-Fukushima-Miyagi area. The account is leavened with enough of the ...more
Sep 29, 2013 Shari rated it it was amazing
Gretel Erlich manages to convey the utter devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan with spectacularly beautiful prose, which I expected after reading and loving The Solace of Open Spaces. For most of the world, such an event remains abstract -- something that happened somewhere else, to people we don’t know. Erlich invites us into the stories of some of those people who survived and manage, somehow, to move forward after losing everything. Her writing brings us inside the horror, ...more
Apr 25, 2013 Larry rated it really liked it
A hauntingly beautiful book. Due to its subject matter that might seem an unlikely description. But this book is filled with incredible, poignant writing as it follows several individuals and families in the weeks and months after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Something this horrific is hard to imagine. The stories of these people who survived and struggle with the immense loss of all worldy goods, loved ones and entire towns makes it very real. At the core of these people is their incred ...more
Aug 03, 2016 Ann rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing book, and very different from any disaster testaments I've read. It's about the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, but doesn't focus so much on what happened that day as what happens next. The book starts in June, 3 months later, and the author goes to the sites where the wave came in. The survivors tell the story of what happened but focus on what happens next. They face relocation, rebuilding, more earthquakes with tsunami threats, a typhoon threat later in ...more
Dec 01, 2013 James rated it liked it
Ehrlich’s account of the March 11, 2011 tsunami that decimated a large portion of Japan’s Honshu Island and the storm's aftermath weaves her first-hand observation with survivor accounts to tell a compelling story. The book is divided into material from three visits, the first visit in June, three months after the tsunami, the 2nd three months later, and the third, three more months later in December 2011. For me the first visit in June which amounts to 60% of the book delivered the most vivid a ...more
Amy Braziller
Jun 23, 2013 Amy Braziller rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
4.5 stars really. Only Gretel Ehrlich can take something as heartwrenching as the 2011 Tohohu earthquake and tsunami and render it poetically on the page. Her lyrical treatment of the destruction, loss, and resilience is beautiful. There is a detached eye of a journalist throughout; however, Ehrlich is always holding hands with the people she describes throughout. It is a compilation of various stories woven through Ehrlich's eyes and ears. All the ghosts that still wander the Japanese countrysi ...more
Joann Eaton
Mar 12, 2013 Joann Eaton rated it it was amazing
This book is by a travel writer who traveled around northern Japan after the earthquake and tsunami interviewing survivors and detailing their challenges and attitudes in the year after the tsunami and how it affected their lives.
Moving account. Well worth the read. I would have liked to have found some more recent information on issues she discussed on the web, but was unable to get any current info about today. Apparently, our attention has moved on. However, the issues the Japanese people ar
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
Part memoir, and part interviews told in a poetic narrative. This was a really powerful read- sad, tragic, and at times hopeful.

The author is really good at portraying each person she interviewed and lived with while she was in Japan. I felt like I was actually meeting these people. This was an intimate glimpse into the people caught in the midst of the tragedy of the tsunami.

Highly recommended and I need to get my own copy. :)
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Gretel Ehrlich is an American travel writer, novelist, essayist, and poet born on a horse ranch near Santa Barbara, California and educated at both Bennington College in Vermont and UCLA film school. After working in film for 10 years and following the death of a loved one, she began writing full-time in 1978 while living on a Wyoming ranch where she had been filming. Her first book, The Solace o ...more
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