Review: ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’ Richard Lloyd Parry

On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. It was Japan’s greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo, and spent six years reporting from the epicentre. Learning about the lives of those affected through their own personal accounts, he paints a rich picture of the impact the tsunami had on day to day Japanese life.

Heart-breaking and hopeful, this intimate account of a tragedy unveils the unique nuances of Japanese culture, the tsunami’s impact on Japan’s stunning and majestic landscape and the psychology of its people.

Ghosts of the Tsunami is an award-winning classic of literary non-fiction. It tells the moving, evocative story of how a nation faced an unimaginable catastrophe and rebuilt to look towards the future.

I came across Ghosts of the Tsunami in the comments section of a Facebook post and, having lived and worked in Japan, I knew that I had to read it. A couple of my students shared their memories of the 2011 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami with me, while a teacher in a training group I was in stated that “we don’t talk about that time” when another trainee asked him about it. Even though I knew about the mass devastation caused by the tsunami, I hadn’t actually heard many accounts about how it affected people on a personal level.

Since the tsunami, there have been countless ‘ghost’ sightings. Multiple taxi drivers have claimed to have had victims of the tragedy get into their vehicles, asking to be taken to addresses that no longer exist. The spirit of an elderly woman was said to appear at a refugee centre, leaving the seat that she sat in soaked with seawater. One survivor said that he hated going out in the rain after the tsunami because he would see the eyes of the dead in puddles. For people interested in this phenomena, there’s an episode of Netflix’s revamped Unsolved Mysteries series dedicated to it. Richard Lloyd Parry makes reference to some of these accounts, but despite the name of his book, his main focus is on individuals and the devastating impact that the disaster had on them. Ghosts of the Tsunami revolves mainly around the tragedy of Okawa Primary School, where 74 children and 10 of their teachers died. As opposed to spiritual hauntings, Parry focuses instead on the questions that haunt the children’s parents – Why didn’t the teachers evacuate the school to higher ground? What was my child thinking during their final moments? Why is no one taking responsibility for this?

The tsunami, which saw more than 18,500 lives lost, is, understandably, a sensitive topic, but Parry has written Ghosts of the Tsunami with a tender regard for victims and survivors. In researching for this book, Parry took time in getting to know the people whose stories he tells and he relays these stories in a respectful manner.

In all honesty, Ghosts of the Tsunami is probably one of the best non-fiction books that I’ve ever read.

Have you read Ghosts of the Tsunami? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below.

Want to read Ghosts of the Tsunami? Head on over to World of Books, Hive or Bookshop to order your copy, or buy it through your local bookstore.

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