Ghosts of the Tsunami

Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone
Narrated by: Simon Vance
Length: 7 hrs and 47 mins
Categories: History, World
4.5 out of 5 stars (247 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Masterfully narrated by Simon Vance, winner of 14 Audie Awards and 61 Earphone Awards, comes the heartbreaking true story of a natural disaster and the resilience of Japan. The definitive account of what happened, why, and, above all, how it felt when catastrophe hit Japan - by the Japan correspondent of The Times (London) and author of People Who Eat Darkness.

On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of Northeast Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than 18,000 people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned.

It was Japan's greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It set off a national crisis and the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. And even after the immediate emergency had abated, the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious ways.

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. There he encountered stories of ghosts and hauntings and met a priest who exorcised the spirits of the dead. And he found himself drawn back again and again to a village that had suffered the greatest loss of all, a community tormented by unbearable mysteries of its own.

What really happened to the local children as they waited in the schoolyard in the moments before the tsunami? Why did their teachers not evacuate them to safety? And why was the unbearable truth being so stubbornly covered up?

Ghosts of the Tsunami is a soon-to-be classic intimate account of an epic tragedy, told through the accounts of those who lived through it. It tells the story of how a nation faced a catastrophe and the struggle to find consolation in the ruins.

©2017 Richard Lloyd Parry (P)2017 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

In an understated performance, Simon Vance details one of the stunning tragedies arising from the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011...Vance's steady pacing, crisp enunciation, and careful inflection enhance the weight of the story, which moves between reportage and interviews, and ultimately reveals unsettling truths about this particular disaster." (AudioFile Magazine)

Editor's Pick

A natural disaster that reads like true crime
"The tsunami makes this a classic of disaster literature; Richard Lloyd Parry’s status as an outsider in Japan despite decades of residency make this feel like True Crime. Every fact he investigates and brings to light leads to deeper questions. As with all truly great nonfiction, Simon Vance’s performance has all the suspense and character development of a novel. If you loved Isaac’s Storm or Unbroken, this is the next listen for you."
Christina H., Audible Editor

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Gripping and Heartbreaking

Ghosts of the Tsunami tells several stories, first, it does a very good job of outlining the geology and geography of the the Tohuku tsunami of 2011.

The earthquake that caused the tsunami was Japan's biggest ever recorded and yet did relatively little damage but the tsunami that followed caught much Japan's northeast coast completely unprepared and as a result almost 20,000 people died.

The author relates several gripping stories of survival and non-survival as a simple wrong turn or 10 second delay meant the difference between surviving and perishing.

He spends a fair amount of time analyzing the sometimes smart and courageous and sometime criminally slow range of responses to the tragedy that have their roots in Japanese traditions and customs.

But the book is mostly an intimate look at the survivors and their struggles to cope with sometimes the staggering loss of entire families from children through to grandparents.

Finally, transcends all of this to speak about universal themes of loss and grief and the overpowering need for understanding and meaning.

The narrator is British and does a credible job with the not-easy-to-get Japanese name and overall presented a fine and engaging performance.

14 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Riveting True Story You Didn't Hear On The News

If you are curious about the Japanese tsunami of 2011, this is a good place to start. If you want to learn some surprising facts about the Japanese culture, get this book, too. However, if you are concerned in your school age child's safety and well-being, as well as your own--and you ought to be--most definitely start here, download and listen to this audiobook. Don't put it off.

It is beautifully written, expertly narrated, and tells the story you didn't read in the newspapers or see on the 11 o'clock news. It details how 78 elementary school children in one village lost their lives in the tsunami. I don't think the loss can be blamed on the tsunami but from the inaction, passivity, and ignorance of the school officials.

Before I retired, when I was still working, I was sent to a training on Safety given by law enforcement. One of the key takeaways for me was the paralysis of trauma victims, that is, the inability to act or think for themselves along with the passivity of meekly waiting to be told what to do. What apparently happened at one Japanese school is a prime example of this phenomenon. When it comes down to it, it could happen anywhere given the right set of circumstances and "officials in charge."

Read the excellent publisher's summary and choose this audiobook if this review peaks your curiosity. It is, after all, up to you.

16 people found this helpful

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Informative, heart-wrenching, and well read

I learned a lot about Japanese religious culture and the heartbreaking story of incomprehensible loss.

7 people found this helpful

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Not just water

Like other people on earth elsewhere, I never really understood what happened on that fateful day. Not until I listened to this heart wrenching story.

2 people found this helpful

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Heart-wrenching and necessary.

The story revolves around the 2011 tsunami and its aftermath. It focuses on Okawa Elementary School, where scores of children lost their lives because due to the inaction of school officials and teachers. But it also follows other survivors as well and looks at parts of the Japanese social psyche and how that played a role in the deaths of so many young children and why justice and solace were so hard to find.

2 people found this helpful

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family loss culturally slanted excellent

the loss of children is insurmountable. As it's happening in America from guns and violence so it happened with a tsunami. Many similarities in the social structure and the approach to solving the issue

3 people found this helpful

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Tragic but beautifully told.

Great cultural insights, haunting stories, and a little justice for grieving parents balance out the sadness.

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Being on this side of the world, the news was brief.

I didn’t hear about the extent of the Tsunami damage nor the loss of so many lives. I only learned about the Fukushima disaster after the earthquake.
I live is the U.S so of course the news surrounding this was shallow and incomplete. In recent years, news reporting in the U.S has become more about ratings and less about factual news.
Important stories such as this lacked in-depth proper coverage. Of the Indonesia tsunami there was far greater coverage so that everyone knew to what extent the tragedy had risen.
This Author immersive investigation into this tragedy does justice to the families who have suffered. Their story needed to be told. The Author conveys the height and depth of the tragedy so it is clearly felt and understood by the reader.
At last, I appreciated learning all about this tragedy in this way. I really want to convey my condolences to the families.

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Could have been longer

I enjoyed the book. The author did a wonderful job at giving an emotional and vivid account of the tragedy in Japan. The narrator did a very nice job. I appreciated the fact that while he didn’t speak Japanese his pronunciation in no way detracted from the story (not often the case). My small gripe with the story is I wish there’d been more finality or an epilogue to conclude the story.

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Too Wordy

Good story but much too much elaboration. Could have been said in half the time.

1 person found this helpful