Book Reviews - Autumn 2017

Wave of Anguish

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Could disobedience have saved a group of Japanese students?

(Richard Lloyd Parry)

By Adam Hochschild

September 5, 2017


Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp., $27

On March 11, 2011, one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan, generating an enormous tsunami that led to twin disasters. One we continue to hear about: the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It was a warning bell for the dangers of nuclear power everywhere; years later, the plant’s operators are still desperately trying to stop radiation from leaking into the region’s groundwater. No one knows what the final impact of the radiation released during and after the meltdown will be, but, miraculously, no one died at Fukushima Daiichi that day.

But it is the other disaster, the terrifyingly high wave that swept over a swath of the coast, that haunts Richard Lloyd Parry, a veteran British foreign correspondent who has long lived in Japan. “By the time the sea retreated,” he writes, “18,500 people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned. It was the greatest single loss of life in Japan since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.”

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Adam Hochschild is the author of eight books, including, most recently, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War: 1936–1939.

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