Picks and Pans Review: Wave of Destruction

updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Erich Krauss

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In describing the lives and hardships of four Thai families who survived the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, Wave of Destruction captures both the enormity of the disaster and the inadequacy of the response. Set in Nam Khem, a lawless tin-mining town on the coast, Krauss's story delves first into the families' histories, recounting their lives with an impossible, almost surreal level of detail, before re-creating their experiences of the tsunami with a terrifying specificity: "A 40-foot wall of blackness approached, grumbling so loud it bled out all but the most horrendous of Prakong's screams. Wimon knew the wave was a devil in disguise because only the devil could make such a hideous sound." Krauss, who lives in both California and Thailand, arrived on a relief truck 12 days after the disaster and spent months helping to reconstruct Nam Khem. Informed by his experiences, Wave of Destruction personalizes the tragedy, though Krauss's take on Thai culture is simplistic and at times his writing is sugary: "Finishing her chores by 7 o'clock, [Dang] went to the bed, peeled back the mosquito net, and gently woke the children, who greeted her with loving smiles." He's clearly emotionally invested in subjects like Dang, who struggles to save her community from ruthless developers—and whose story could be spun off into a riveting screenplay or documentary—but Krauss's writing style unfortunately lends his book a tabloid quality. That said, Wave of Destruction is both a knowledgeable account of survivor stories and something of a page-turner, even if readers ache for the happy ending that never materializes.

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