Wave Of Destruction: The Stories Of Four Families And History’s Deadliest Tsunami, by Erich Krauss
It is easy to have compassion on the subjects of this book, as they represent the sort of Thai person I knew well when I lived in the country, even though I lived in the northern part of the country and not in the area near Phuket, which is where this book is focused. The author himself is one of those humanitarians who visited Thailand in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and when he wasn’t busy helping to clean up the destruction in and around Phuket, he showed himself willing to listen to the stories of four families of survivors who had even before the tsunami lived difficult lives that demonstrate the struggles that are faced by the common people of Thailand. The author writes with compassion and gets a sense of the horror as well as the resilience shown by the people of Thailand in the face of a disaster to massive and destructive to comprehend or cope with. This is the sort of book that can only be written by someone who tries his best to capture what others are saying and who is not trying to win any elections in Thailand’s parliament, and it does not speak very kindly to the state of politics and economics in that country.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and it is divided into four parts and 32 short chapters that focus on the intersecting lives of four poor families in the area of Nam Khem. The first part of the book contains eight chapters and focuses on the lives of four families in Nam Khem. We see an area grow due to fishing and tin mining and the construction of resorts and how the combination of insecure land tenure and a lack of concern by local authorities let a generally lawless area grow up with brothels and high crime and violence where the military were not often good guys even where they were present. After that there are ten chapters that deal with the catastrophic destruction of the 2004 tsunami and how it affected the four families differently, although all managed to have surviving family members (and a great many dead children, siblings, parents, and other relatives). The third part of the book shows the poignant hunt for the missing, a hunt that was actively hindered by the local hospital being totally overrun as well as the efforts on a part of local property holders to hinder the search of those they considered politically unreliable. Finally, the fourth part of the book looks at the long and difficult road to recovery faced by the traumatized survivors, after which the author discusses his own involvement with interviewing and listening to the survivors and their painful stories.
After finishing this heartrending account, one wonders if there will be a follow-up written to this book that indicates how well (or poorly) the people discussed in this book dealt with the cleanup that followed the tsunami. The four families involved in this story all faced different threats and concerns and it would be good to know if they were able to struggle on after their heavy losses and if Thailand provided opportunity for them to recover some measure of stability and prosperity. One has a particular degree of concern for the family of community organizers who sought to fight against the land seizure by a corrupt company in cahoots with the local military, political, and business elites, as such community focus does not usually end well in Thailand given their immensely corrupt crony political system. Similarly, the blind Puek and the fisherman Wimon are similarly sufficiently vulnerable people, as is Wichien, survivor of various pirate expeditions conducted illegally in coastal Burma. How have such people overcome the traumas and trouble of their past and the loss of thousands of their neighbors and many of their own family members in an incomprehensible natural disaster like that of the 2004 tsunami?