The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck

Reviewed by Keri


Content Ratings based on a 0-5 scale where
0 = no objectionable content and
5 = an excessive or disturbing level of content

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(Pulitzer and Nobel Prize Winner)

Ratings Explanation:

Violence:  Nature versus man as a small Japanese village faces the fury of a volcano and a tsunami.

Adult Themes:  The tsunami kills many of the fisherman and their families in the village.  Jiya is from one of these families but was able to escape before the tidal wave hit.  He is left to face the death of his father, mother and brother.  In their culture, the Japanese are taught to “learn to live with danger” and “enjoy life and do not fear death.”


Kino and Jiya are good friends growing up in a small Japanese village.  Kino and his family are rice farmers who live high up in the hills.  Jiya and his family are fishermen by trade and live below the hills on the beach.  One day, while working in the rice fields, Kino and his father notice a great deal of smoke rising from a volcano 20 miles away.  Changes in the sky and ocean make the villagers nervous as they watch, trying to protect their families.  The sound of a great bell from a palace below warns the villagers of danger and encourages them to come within its wall for safety.  Some heed the warning but many stay close to their homes.  Jiya’s family orders him to flee to the palace for protection.  Jiya instead runs up the hills to his friend’s home.  Kino and Jiya watch the commotion in the village below when suddenly the ocean turns angry and a giant tidal wave sweeps up onto the beach, taking houses and people with it.  Jiya watches in horror as his family is swept away.  Kino’s family commits to care for Jiya and raise him as their own.  Before fully recovering,  the wealthy owner of the palace comes to visit him.  He tells Kino’s father that he would like to take Jiya as his own son and give him an education.  Knowing that this is a great opportunity for the grieving Jiya, Kino’s father encourages him to visit the palace to see the opportunities that would be his.  Jiya obeys and visits the old man.  After touring the grounds, he then tells the palace owner that his choice is to stay with Kino’s family.  The old man is irritated at Jiya’s response and tells Jiya he could have everything he needs.  Jiya respectfully tells him that he already has a home on the farm.  Jiya returns to the hills and grows from a boy to a man.  He learns to live with his loss with the kind help of Kino’s family.  He is eventually drawn back to the ocean where he longs to be a fisherman like his fathers before him.  Then facing his greatest fear, Jiya builds a home on the beach for him and his new wife (Kino’s kind sister) .

This is an incredibly powerful story in a very few short pages.  I loved the wisdom of life that Buck has pulled from the Japanese culture.  The underlying theme of the book is that life is stronger than death.  As Kino’s father tries to help his son understand the tragedy that has torn at their village he says, “No one knows who makes evil storms … We only know that they come.  When they come we must live through them as bravely as we can, and after they are gone, we must feel again how wonderful is life.  Every day of life is more valuable now than it was before the storm.”  A great read for quiet contemplation and thoughtful discussion.

©2009 The Literate Mother

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