“People who didn’t lose anyone can’t really understand,” says Kai, a 17-year-old biracial boy from a coastal village in eastern Japan, as he watches his friends whose families survived the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Prior to the disaster, Kai, the fictional protagonist of "Up From the Sea" — the latest novel by Tokyo-based American author Leza Lowitz — was an ordinary teenager whose greatest passion in life was soccer, a sport he had come to use for inner strength in coping with the sudden departure of his American father back home. At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, Kai's hometown would forever change by the powerful calamity that swept away tens of thousands of lives and homes, including his own, while leaving those who survived wondering whether staying alive had been a blessing — or a curse.
Written in free verse-style from a young adult’s perspective, "Up From The Sea" revolves around Kai's post-disaster life as he struggles to accept his fate of losing nearly everyone and everything that had shaped his life until that fateful day. It follows him through a number of skillfully depicted internal clashes of anger, grief and fear, narrated in parallel with the emotions of other survivors in a poignant, accurate record of the disaster. As the town struggles to rebuild, Kai is invited to visit New York to meet 9/11 orphans, who had lived through similar despair. It is there where he learns that though he cannot change his past, he can build his future, leading him to make an important decision for his life in a heartbreaking developed rite-of-passage only a child who has lived through a loss can portray.
The Great East Japan Earthquake, the most powerful natural disaster to ever strike the country in recent times, followed by the man-made calamity at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, left 15,894 dead, over 2,500 missing to date and nearly 230,000 people still displaced from their homes. While the country prepares for the disaster's 5th anniversary this year, the sad reality is that for many people living away from the affected areas, March 11 is gradually moving into oblivion, despite the fact that much is yet to be done in the process of rebuilding Tohoku.
For these reasons, Lowitz's novel is a ray of light into the realization that a valuable way to contribute to the reconstruction of Tohoku is to not forget the disaster and its victims. The reality described in Lowitz's novel is eye-opening for though fictitious, Kai is an authentic illustration of the lives, struggles and emotions of the nearly 1,800 children who were left fully or half-orphaned by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a calamity that forced them to become adults at a very fragile age.
“If there’s a message to this book, then it’s that we’re all interconnected and we all should help each other," Lowitz says, reminding us that no human being is immune to loss and that we should continue supporting each other in our battles to not break even when bent.
“For some time I struggled, wondering did I have the right to tell their stories,” recalls Lowitz, who had repeatedly visited Tohoku after the earthquake and tsunami. “But then I kept remembering the people I met up there. They kept saying ‘Don’t forget us.’”
"If we lose hope, that’s the real disaster,” Lowitz says, as she prepares for her next visit to Tohoku.
A moving story based on real events that occurred in the disaster-stricken areas, "Up From the Sea" is a novel about survival through mutual support and reliance in tragic times, where the question of "can hope be found when everything is lost?" is continuously raised and explored.
A rare contribution to the nearly non-existent English-language literature in Japan focusing on the tsunami survivors, Up From the Sea is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the disaster from a personal point of view.
About the author
Leza Lowitz is the author of 20 books, including "Jet Black and the Ninja Wind," which she cowrote with her husband, Shogo Oketani, "Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By," and her memoir, "Here Comes the Sun," about adapting and adopting in Japan. You can visit her online at www.lezalowitz.com.© Japan Today