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**Kirkus Best Books of the Year (2013)**
**Kansas City Star Best Books of the Year (2013)**
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.
Rarely has "you-are-here" reporting been as eloquent and searing as Ehrlich's visit to Japan's Tohoku coast. This is where, in March of 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami "devastated almost four hundred miles of Japan's northeastern coast and caused the cooling apparatus of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to fail, resulting in three hydrogen explosions and the massive nuclear meltdowns in four nuclear reactors." Ehrlich journeys throughout the region with Japanese friends, meeting survivors and hearing their harrowing stories. With stories of water that "was black with diesel and gas, sewage, dirt, and blood," this book is not for the faint of heart, but memorable portraits emerge: a woman learns to use a backhoe to dig for her daughter's body; a man carries one town's beloved geisha to safety on his back. Meanwhile, an uncle of Ehrlich's friend has made his peace, observing: "I lost everything. Now I feel better." The vividness of these people and the invitation to readers to meet and know them make up for the book's one major fault: a seeming reluctance on Ehrlich's part to define her own connections to Japan and the people she clearly knows and loves there.