Book Reviews: ‘Facing the Wave’ tries to fill in the space

“Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami” by Gretel Ehrlich. Pantheon, 2013. $25.

Snow fell to the ground on the east coast of Japan as the wave struck on March 11, 2011, following a 9.0 earthquake. The tsunami claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people.

In the months that followed, American writer Gretel Ehrlich, a student of Japanese poetry and art, traveled the decimated coast to witness the tragedy and the slow healing process.

Part journalistic endeavor, part personal essay, part poetry, Ehrlich’s latest book, “Facing the Wave,” is a window into the lives of those who survived the tsunami — monks, fishermen, farmers, friends. They feel the ghosts all around them.

A woman they call “the digger” rents a backhoe every day to search for her daughter’s remains. A temple becomes a collection center for bodies. As the months pass, new realities emerge. Many wonder if they will be able to rebuild their homes, as they share cramped temporary housing. Many fear contamination from the nuclear meltdown, even as animal crusaders risk radiation exposure to rescue abandoned animals from the no-go zone in Fukushima.

Perhaps the central theme of Ehrlich’s book lies in the Buddhist concept of bardo, which, Ehrlich writes, means “‘the space between,’ and refer to every present moment.” Ehrlich, and the stories she tells, often occupy this space — between life and death, between insider and outsider, between tragedy and healing.

— Lindsay M. Loup, New Orleans

“Murder as a Fine Art” by David Morrell. Mulholland Books, Little, Brown and Co., 2014. $16.

Extravagant praise greeted the publication last year of David Morrell’s “Murder as a Fine Art,” with critics praising a clever, twisted plot, its evocation of the opium-obsessed writer Thomas de Quincey, and the description of a filthy, seething, mid-19th-century London.

The release of a paperbound edition provides an opportunity for reconsideration: the story is far-fetched, the portrait of de Quincey tedious, and the depiction of Victorian Britain one-sided.

A much superior historical mystery, set in exactly the same time and place, is Michael Crichton’s “The Great Train Robbery,” published originally in 1975 and still readily available.

— Ben Martin, Baton Rouge