Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

March 30, 2013 

Nonfiction

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

Gretel Ehrlich, Pantheon; 224 pages

Two years ago, a huge earthquake off Japan was followed by tidal waves. World media reported intently on the resulting destruction, especially since it triggered the meltdown of a nuclear power plant – “the worst maritime contamination disaster in recorded history.” Then attention moved on, but Gretel Ehrlich chose to travel to the heart of “a wild place of total devastation,” where “one hundred years of modernization seem to have been erased in one afternoon.”

Ehrlich, author of 15 books, was no stranger to Japan. But nothing could have prepared her. Entire villages were swept away. Traveling through the most affected areas, she gives voice to more than 30 survivors – fishermen, farmers, Buddhist priests, nuns and more. Hungry and cold, the “internal refugees” were left in “a world of lost lives, illegible debris, and sorrow.”

Looting and fraud occurred, but many more responded with self-sacrifice, helping others even when they had little to give. Monks begged for funds to take to the disaster zone; temples and homes became shelters and morgues. Older men volunteered to work at the reactor to spare the young. Many risked their own health to rescue lost animals.

“Courage and self-discipline are evident everywhere,” Ehrlich observes, “but the pain of loss is staggering; there’s confusion, nightmarish fear, and there are suicides.” Yet Ehrlich also finds perseverance and hope.

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

Fiction

Dark Tide

Elizabeth Haynes, Harper Paperbacks, 400 pages

Elizabeth Haynes follows her best-selling “Into the Darkest Corner” with another solid thriller.

In “Dark Tide,” Genevieve Shipley has quit two jobs and used her savings to start a new life aboard a houseboat. Her day job in London involved sales, and at night, she worked as a pole dancer at a gentlemen’s club. When her boss discovered her night job, he began to harass her.

Genevieve saw things at the gentleman’s club that put her life in danger. Now, in her houseboat in Kent, with her past hidden and a new life ahead, she believes everything will be just fine. Then one of her friends – a fellow dancer – is murdered. Her body is found floating next to Genevieve’s houseboat.

The narrative jumps between the present and the past as what forced Genevieve to give up everything is slowly revealed.

The danger seems a bit distant, but the story is compelling. Haynes sometimes isn’t forthcoming with details relevant to the story until it’s too late. Terrible for Genevieve, but great for the reader.

Associated Press

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