In the face of several grief manuals that have been published this year, Richard Lloyd Parry’s account of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and its aftermath arrives like a ghost at the feast, its mind set not on platitudes, but on the very hardest kind of truth-telling ... This is not, then, a book of easy consolation. It is, as it should be, painful to read. All the same, every time I think of it, I’m filled with wonderment (and, I suppose, professional envy). Lloyd Parry is such a good reporter: discreet yet unsentimental; ever-present, but able also swiftly to absent himself from the page. He never overwrites. His capacity for intimacy with relative strangers is a kind of gift ... It is hard to imagine a more insightful account of mass grief and its terrible processes. This book is a future classic of disaster journalism, up there with John Hersey’s Hiroshima.
...remarkably written and reported ... In a gripping fashion, Parry builds his account around solving the excruciating mystery that haunts the parents of those who were killed...In doing so, he produces a page-turner. In lesser hands, this tactic could seem ghoulish or exploitative — 'an effort to squeeze spooky entertainment out of the tragedy.' But in Parry’s, the material gets assembled into a moving study of character and culture, love and loss, grief and responsibility ... He constructs the book as an exquisite series of nesting boxes of sorrow and compassion ... Reminiscent of John Hersey’s classic Hiroshima, a devastatingly calm and matter-of-fact look at the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb, Parry recounts this story with a necessary balance of detachment and investment. Significantly, unlike Hersey, Parry was in Japan during the disaster he’s describing, and so he includes the occasional first-person experience in his multilayered account. The result is a spellbinding book that is well worth contemplating in an era marked by climate change and natural disaster.
It's a wrenching chronicle of a disaster that, six years later, still seems incomprehensible ... Any writer could compile a laundry list of the horrors that come in the wake of a disaster; Parry's book is not that. He takes his readers deep into Tohoku, 'a remote, marginal, faintly melancholy place, the symbol of a rural tradition that, for city dwellers, is no more than a folk memory' ... Parry writes about the survivors with sensitivity and a rare kind of empathy; he resists the urge to distance himself from the pain in an attempt at emotional self-preservation. The result is a book that's brutally honest, and at times difficult to read ... Ghosts of the Tsunami is a brilliant chronicle of one of the modern world's worst disasters, but it's also a necessary act of witness. The stories Parry tells are wrenching, and he refuses to mitigate the enormity of the tsunami with false optimism or saccharine feel-good anecdotes. Above all, it's a beautiful meditation on grief.
Because of his focus on the school, Lloyd Parry, a father of two, does his best to empathize with the parents of Okawa’s children. It is these people—along with the few children who survived the tragedy and discussed it with Lloyd Parry—who emerge as the downtrodden yet heroic figures of the book, which tells a story that desperately needs heroes ... It’s a search for justice that becomes a search for lost possibility. Both Perry and the parents grapple with the futility of searching for ways to to save children who have already been lost ... It’s hard to think about the waves crashing on the beach in quite the same way, so powerful is Ghosts of the Tsunami. Lloyd Parry’s account is truly haunting, and remains etched in the brain and the heart long after the book is over.
In still, novelistic prose, he rescues from the depths of the ocean and the foul-smelling mud the lives that were ended on that day. As much as the dead, he deals with the half-dead, the living who trudge on through life with the guilt of the survivor, contemplating what they could or should have done to save their daughter or sister or husband ... [Parry] is able to draw something meaningful, even lovely, from the well of misery ... Overall, the strength of the book lies in its stories, its observations and its language ... There is, as Parry notes towards the end of the book, 'no tidying away of loose ends.' If anything, it is the accounts of the dead, both while they were living and in their absence, that illuminate our own brief existence and give it a kind of meaning. The 'stories alone show the way.'”
Mr Lloyd Parry deftly, even lovingly, tells [these] stories ... The portrait of obfuscating officialdom that Mr Lloyd Parry paints has parallels in the account he wrote in 2011 of the murder in Tokyo of Lucie Blackman, the young woman at the centre of his earlier book, People Who Eat Darkness. In both, Japanese officials made wild denials in the face of accountable wrongdoing, ignored and hid evidence, hoping the annoying inquiries would go away. By refusing to accept their evasions, and by laying out in panoramic detail what happened after the tsunami, Mr Lloyd Parry offers a voice to the grieving who, too often, found it hard to be heard. It is a thoughtful lesson to all societies whose first reaction in the face of adversity is to shut down inquiry and cover up the facts. You will not read a finer work of narrative non-fiction this year.
Richard Lloyd Parry’s book reminds us that preconceived ideas about regions and their peoples are no more than half-truths. Other realities existed beneath the surface of post-disaster life ... a compassionate and piercing look at the communities ravaged by the tsunami ... There is another set of spirits that inhabit the pages of Lloyd Parry’s book – the ghosts of Japan’s political failures at every level of society, from village communities to local authorities to city and prefectural governments, all the way to the central government that proved unable to respond fully to the disaster.
Parry follows the parents of the children who died—as well as the few who survived—as they struggle to uncover the mistakes that led to their children’s deaths. The stories that Parry gives voice to are not only deeply personal but they are accompanied with essential historical and cultural context that enable the reader to understand the roles of death, grief, and responsibility in Japanese culture—and why some survivors may always remain haunted.
The author’s narrative is appropriately haunted and haunting. One memorable moment comes when he describes someone brought back from the brink of madness by a perhaps unlikely method: namely, being sprinkled with holy water and thus freed from the hold of 'the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead.' Parry’s set pieces come to have a certain predictability: expert–victim–expert–survivor. Yet they retain their urgency, for, as he writes, it won’t be long before another earthquake of similar or even greater intensity strikes Tokyo proper, with its millions of inhabitants; in that event, 'the Nankai earthquake, which might strike at any time, could kill more people than four atomic bombs.' A sobering and compelling narrative of calamity.