By Charles A. Pomeroy
Publisher: Telemachus Press
Published: September 2014
Formats Available For Review: ebook, print (limited quantities, only available to qualified reviewers/bloggers)
Tsunami Reflections: Otsuchi Remembered by Charles A. Pomeroy. An Imprint of Telemachus Press in paperback and eBook formats.
This memoir presents the author’s retirement town and family’s experience as a microcosm of the horrific tsunami that devastated Japan’s Sanriku Coast on March 11, 2011. More than 19,000 people lost their lives and some 5 million households were affected directly by that disaster, including that of the author and his wife. The town, Otsuchi, is limned within its geographical/historical context and a sense of place established, followed by reflections on the tsunami’s aftermath, loss of family members and home, mass funerals, cultural aspects, humanitarian efforts, and reconstruction plans. The narrative is augmented throughout by many photos, maps, and video links.
The Introduction provides family background and reasons for the author’s choice of this port town for retirement. Chapter 1 then presents an overview of the situation at the time of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami and a timeline of unfolding events as revealed in email exchanges.
With the scene set, Chapter 2 time-warps into a description of Otsuchi’s geographic location, its pre-tsunami key districts, topography, and historical context. Introduced also is Tono, the nearest inland town, which becomes important as the family’s post-tsunami base of operations from an aunt’s home there.
Chapters 3 and 4 then affirm a sense of place and local relationships through descriptions of the family home and neighborhood. The cultural fabric that strengthened community relationships, including annual festivals and Buddhist rites of Obon for the dead, is described.
Chapter 5 outlines the history of earlier earthquakes and tsunami before expanding on the “Big One” of 2011 that destroyed the Sanriku Coast. Survival stories as well as explanations of why so many died are presented. Recounted, too, is the first-hand experience of the Sea Shepherds, an ocean conservation group. Summarization of two videos of the disaster, one showing inundation of the part of town where family members were lost, ends the chapter.
An overview of the tsunami’s aftermath provides insights into its effects and the activities of volunteers in Chapter 6. This is followed in Chapter 7 by reflections on the devastation in Otsuchi and surrounding areas as seen by the author seven weeks after the tsunami, when the eerie silence of a dead town inspired him to relate this story.
The more emotional section of the book, Chapter 8, describes the search for missing relatives, mass funerals for the dead and missing, flowers reappearing amid the ruins, identification of a family member’s remains, interment of ashes, and the 2011 Buddhist commemoration of the dead.
Chapter 9 brings a lighter mood with descriptions of humanitarian aid to the town from Otsuchi’s sister-city of Fort Bragg, CA, and contributions in general—no doubt of interest to all who gave to relief efforts—as well as a Tokyo donation program that failed. The Japanese custom of giving “condolence” money is explained, followed by a related digression involving Hawaii.
The book concludes, in Chapter 10, with an outline of the master plan for the reconstruction of Otsuchi and resurrection of the town’s businesses in the face of ongoing depopulation. Included is a critique of the Japanese government’s response to the disaster, a description of local media, and thoughts on future possibilities for revitalizing the town.
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