Since publishing has become digital, I have on occasion bought individual essays or short stories online rather than forking out for an entire anthology. A single as opposed to an album, you might say. I did so this morning. It cost me less than a dollar and I read the entire thing over my lunch break, but it was worth every cent.
The book, if it can still be called such, is Children of The Tsunami by Patrick Sherriff, and it is the tale of the author and his family taking a short trip into the disaster zone of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, four years on.
Early in the story, the author expresses concern that he may be engaging in some sort of disaster voyeurism, but his fears are unfounded. He strikes the right tone in his storytelling. He tells the facts as they were on his trip and he does so without being maudlin or overly dramatic. That’s not to say the story doesn’t have power. It does. He talks with people who survived; teenagers who have lost parents, a mother who lost her young child, a grandmother who lives alone in a tiny prefabricated house hundreds of miles from any remaining family members. You can’t help but be moved by their stories and indeed the kindness that the author’s family, particularly his wife, appears to have shown to the victims of the quake and tsunami since that dreadful day.
As the author drives through the disaster area, the polite female voice of the car’s satellite navigation system urges him to turn left at petrol stations that are no longer there. It demands he turn right onto roads that are now just figments of a ghostly computerised memory. It is a reminder that the area is not what it used to be.
And the story is a reminder, too. It is a reminder that while we are back to shopping in fully lit convenience stores with working automatic doors, while we have long ceased feeling guilty at switching on the air conditioners or heaters, and while we have resumed living reasonably comfortable lives, there remain many who have not. I am sitting with my wife and a beer watching television in my snug living room. Elsewhere, a pensioner is sitting alone in a tiny cramped room of just 7.5 square metres with paper-thin walls. She once had a living room ten times that size. Things aren’t like they used to be, though. Not for those who were there.