Gretel Ehrlich’s Facing the Wave (Book Acquired, Some Time Earlier This Month)

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Got into this a bit the other day. Last year, a reader sent me a copy of Ehrlich’s The Future of Ice, which was nice, but I could never really get into it. Anyway, like the cover on this one. Blurb from publisher Pantheon (you can also read an excerpt here):

From one of the preeminent and most admired observers of the natural world, a heartrending and inspirational portrait of Japan after the 2011 tsunami, when survivors found their world utterly transformed by loss, grief, destruction, and the urgent need to reconstruct their homes, their towns, and their lives.

A passionate student of Japanese poetry, theater, and art for much of her life, Gretel Ehrlich felt compelled to return to the earthquake-and-tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast to bear witness, listen to survivors, and experience their terror and exhilaration in villages and towns where all shelter and hope seemed lost. In an eloquent narrative that blends strong reportage, poetic observation, and deeply felt reflection, she takes us into the upside-down world of northeastern Japan, where nothing is certain and where the boundaries between living and dying have been erased by water.

The stories of rice farmers, monks, and wanderers; of fishermen who drove their boats up the steep wall of the wave; and of an eighty-four-year-old geisha who survived the tsunami to hand down a song that only she still remembered are both harrowing and inspirational. Facing death, facing life, and coming to terms with impermanence are equally compelling in a landscape of surreal desolation, as the ghostly specter of Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power complex, spews radiation into the ocean and air. Facing the Wave is a testament to the buoyancy, spirit, humor, and strong-mindedness of those who must find their way in a suddenly shattered world.

Book Acquired, 1.19.2012 — The Future of Ice

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Big thanks to Biblioklept reader (and frequent commenter) ccllyyddee, who sent me his copy of Gretel Ehrlich’s The Future of Ice. I dipped into it a bit this weekend; Ehrlich seems to be walking that strange line between the physical and metaphysical. A description from her website–

In this gripping circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle, Gretel Ehrlich paints a vivid portrait of the indigenous cultures that inhabit the starkly beautiful boreal landscape surrounding the Arctic Ocean, an ice-bound wilderness that includes northern Siberia, northwestern Greenland, Canada’s vast Nunavut, and northern Alaska. Ehrlich’s expedition, supported by the National Geographic Society, documents what remains of these cultures, specifically the similarities and differences among them, including hunting traditions, shamanic and ceremonial practices, languages and legends—the ways in which they have survived, or have been assimilated, and how they are adapting to the impact of climate change on their ice-age cultures.

Ehrlich is fascinated by what she calls the ecology of culture—the ways in which the human presence of indigenous Arctic people is intricately interwoven with land, rock, river, sea, and ice. Depicting human-caused climate change as only the latest and most destructive of the ills and abuses first peoples have been suffering for 250 years, Ehrlich’s haunting and lovely prose portrays ancient tribes and traditions on the edge of extinction and captures the austere beauty of their various lifeways in the frozen dreamscape of the world they have always known.