The Big Wave

One of the most beautiful and moving books about Japan I’ve ever read is Pearl Buck ‘s The Big Wave. Although it wasn’t on my original list for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge, I decided to include it as one of my choices. This is a beautifully written story about two young boys in pre-war Japan whose lives are forever changed by a tsunami. Kino, the son of a farmer, lives on the steep mountainside. His friend, Jiya, whose father is a fisherman, lives on the narrow strip of beach below the mountain.

When a tsunami destroys the fishing village, Jiya loses his entire family. His father had sent him up the hillside to safety just before the tsunami hit, so that the “family” could live on. But watching the big wave destroy his village was too much for Jiya, and he collapses in grief. Kino’s family very kindly takes him in and makes him a part of their family. They gently care for the grief-stricken boy, and the story poignantly describes the process of grief and renewal.

This is a very short book, but a very powerful one, and is a book for all ages, not just for children. The language of the book is exquisitely simple, yet the ideas are profound. A few years ago, knowing how much I love Pearl Buck, and how much this particular book means to me, my husband searched for a very old hardbound copy and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s one of my book treasures, and was a delight to reread again for this Japanese Literature challenge.

They sat together, father and son, and Kino asked still another question. “Father, are we not very unfortunate people to live in Japan?”
“Why do you think so?” his father asked in reply.
“Because the volcano is behind our house and the ocean is in front, and when they work together for evil, to make the earthquake and the big wave, then we are helpless. Always many of us are lost.”
“To live in the midst of danger is to know how good life is,” his father replied.
“But if we are lost in the danger?” Kino asked anxiously.
“To live in the presence of death makes us brave and strong,” Kino’s father replied. “That is why our people never fear death. We see it too often and we do not fear it. To die a little later or a little sooner does not matter. But to live bravely, to love life, to see how beautiful the trees are and the mountains, yes, and even the sea, to enjoy work because it provides food for life–in these things we Japanese are a fortunate people. We love life because we live in danger. We do not fear death because we understand that life and death are necessary to each other. 

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6 thoughts on “The Big Wave

  1. Bellezza

    Here’s how foolish I am: I thought Pearl S. Buck only wrote The Great Earth! That book is a marvel, it’s no wonder it won a Pulitzer, but now to be aware of The Big Wave? That’s very exciting. I love the picture you put with it at the top of your post. I don’t remember the name of the work, or artist, but it is very famous (and lovely). Thanks for the great review!

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  2. cj

    Well, I knew Pearl S. Buck wrote more than The Good Earth, but I thought her books were all set in China!

    Thanks for the great review and I may need to check this one out.

    cjh

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  3. tanabata

    I’m with cj. I knew Buck had written several books but for some reason I had thought they were all set in China too. This one sounds very good. On to the wishlist it goes. Thanks for the review, Robin. And I wish you a very happy Christmas with your family.

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  4. Robin

    Nymeth, I agree that this little book would be a wonderful introduction to Pearl Buck. I love her work!

    Bellezza, she’s one of my favorite authors! I’ve loved every book I’ve read by her! Her writing is so beautiful, and her stories are fascinating.
    A lot of us had to read The Good Earth in high school, but didn’t realize that The Good Earth is actually the first volume in a trilogy. I didn’t find that out until just a few years ago. Also, I didn’t realize that she had won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature.

    CJ and Tanabata, I’m not sure how many of her other books take place in Japan. All the other ones I’ve read (or have on my TBR shelf) take place in China. This little story about Japan is a Must Read, however.

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