Sarah and Peter Bedford are sailing with their parents off the coast of Indonesia when the tsunami strikes. As they attempt to escape, their father breaks his leg. Their mother insists the children run ahead, so they do, up the hills into the jungle. Sarah later finds her mother, dead, on the beach, but not her father. Peter is soon running a fever and Sarah embarks on an arduous overland journey to try to get him help. At the same time Ruslan, an Indonesian boy, has taken his own escape route out of his village, and is looking for his father, along with many who are searching for missing relatives. Ruslan and Sarah recognize one another when their paths cross, as he had waited on her family on an earlier stop in his village. Together, with a few other refugees, they make their way to another village where Peter may be able to receive help in a makeshift hospital. Ruslan is threatened by an additional danger, since his family are partisans in a local conflict, and he is suspected of activity on behalf of the rebels.

At the hospital, lack of personnel and supplies throws Peter's survival into doubt, as well as the prospect of finding the children's father. Eventually Ruslan finds his own father, and Sarah and Peter are rescued by the military and taken to a base where more adequate care may be provided. Once there, Sarah finds herself swarmed by journalists, but realizes that the international attention their own case has incited is lopsided, given the many locals whose stories of loss and suffering are not being told. The story ends with the fates of Peter and their father unresolved; clearly part of the story is that no "end" is in sight, and that it will be a long, long time before anything that looks like "normality" will be restored.


Though some of the plot twists are a bit contrived, this story of survival is a strong reminder of what kind of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and reliance on strangers must have been involved in the survival of many who escaped the tsunami of December 26, 2004. The almost unimaginable scale of death to be coped with quickly, the numbness of grief and trauma, and the ways in which small things can matter precisely at such a challenging life edge are all handled with a caring but light touch. The brief afterword describing the actual event is helpful as a point of departure for discussion of disaster and trauma management. The press comes off pretty badly in the final chapters, but that, too, provides a useful discussion point, as the media vary widely in the ways they cover international disasters.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



Page Count