Tsunami Kids

tsunami kidsPublished: 2014
Author: Rob & Paul Forkan

The human story behind a tragedy


Most of the books I read are fiction but every now and then I like to read a factual book and in particular I enjoy memoirs. Celebrity memoirs are (to my slight shame) a favourite but every now and again I come across the story of an “ordinary” person. A couple of years ago I spotted a book called Tsunami Kids: Our Journey from Survival to Success, the story of a family caught up in the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. I bought it but got tied up in review copies and left it for a while before getting round to reading it.

Written by brothers Rob and Paul Forkan (although really it’s only Rob whose voice is heard) it tells the story of the Forkan family and their lives pre and post tsunami. The Forkans were a large, loving family who were seemed slightly unconventional this was never more evident than when the parents decided to sell their home and move to Goa with their four youngest children for a few months. A few months turned into four years and the children’s education switched from being classroom based to a focus on practicalities, resilience, compassion and awareness of the world around them. Lessons which proved vital for the children on Boxing Day 2004 when the tsunami hit and their dream holiday in Sri Lanka became a nightmare as Kevin and Sandra Forkan are killed after ensuring the safety of the youngest two children. Following the tragedy the children return home and have to learn to cope without their parents.

This is a fascinating insight into one of the biggest natural disaster that I can remember. We all saw the news stories and the footage from the destroyed regions (particularly Aceh in Indonesia) but there’s been little (in the West at least) about the individual human cost of the tragedy. The Impossible was a good film but ultimately uplifting, the Forkan story had much more impact because of the loss that the family experienced and how their lives changed. The chapters which focussed on the immediate aftermath of the tsunami were tough to read and heart-breaking in their simplicity. There was no great drama, just a bleak and compelling narrative of how the four children first lost, then found each other and Rob chose to keep his father’s death from his siblings in order to give them the strength to continue.

Where Tsunami Kids really works is with its post-tsunami story of how the children (particularly Rob) fare once home in England and the story of how Rob and Paul form the social enterprise Gandy’s Flip-Flops is fascinating. The tsunami has a deep impact on the family and how the children’s lives develop (including the older children who weren’t in Sri Lanka at the time) but it doesn’t destroy their lives.

The Forkans’ story is fascinating and moving, but never mawkish. The focus on family life before and after the tsunami really does make it a well-rounded tale and helps the reader to really understand the impact on the family of the lose of their parents and how their upbringing helped them to cope with that loss. This is absolutely compelling and worth picking up to find out a bit more about the human stories behind such a catastrophic event.

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