Starting Over After the End of the World

Authors: Sarah Bracy, Ashley Daddona, Steven Minurka, Lauren Ngo, Elena Ritz, & Jose Romero

“They came from diverse tribes and countries, and their traditions had no word for what had happened. But they were one in their shock and grief, huddled under the pall of hunger, the fear of disease, and the utter fatigue of starting over after the end of the world” (Babcock 1).

With pain there is beauty, which is surely demonstrated in the interactive piece by Lorena Babcock Moore, titled Tsunami Art. The Earth rests on the back of a turtle which is shook by an earthquake, causing a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Each section of the shell has a different story to tell about the devastation that came with the tsunami, and the incredible artistry is a beautiful way to tell the story of the disaster, and those who fell victim to it, for years to come. This intent to tell the story of the disaster and its effects is an interesting parallel to the stonelore that we see throughout Jemisin’s trilogy, which serves the same function — keeping relevant information alive throughout time.

This piece of art has taught us that the end of one world can often prompt the beginning of a new one. So, as Jemisin would put it, let’s start with the end of the world: the surviving people of Banda Aceh. They might find this work of art to be applicable to their own experiences after the massive 2004 tsunami that drastically changed their lives within minutes.

As Dave Roos describes in his article, The 2004 Tsunami Wiped Away Towns with Mind Boggling Destruction, “The 2004 quake ruptured a 900-mile stretch along the Indian and Australian plates 31 miles below the ocean floor. Rather than delivering one violent jolt, the quake lasted an unrelenting 10 minutes, releasing as much pent-up power as several thousand atomic bombs.” This statement shows the true magnitude of this seismic event. The earthquake that set off catastrophic waves eventually accumulated into one large destructive tsunami in 2004, making it more powerful than average with a magnitude of 9.1.

What is now known as the “Boxing Day” tsunami is the tenth deadliest one to date, affecting nearly a dozen countries, reaching from parts of South Africa to land in Southeast Asia. The tsunami hit the city of Banda Aceh first and with the first wave hitting the city in just twenty minutes, citizens had little to no time to find shelter. As 100 feet of water swept over the coastal city, more than 100,000 individuals were instantly killed. Trees were swept up, buildings were destroyed, and lives were taken (Roos 1). What was once known as the peaceful “doorway to Mecca” — since it was a stopping location for Muslim pilgrims traveling from the east — was now a heavily damaged city that would struggle to restore its tranquil state of living (Britannica).

When looking at the 2004 Tsunami in comparison to a Season, we came to the realization that in the midst of following the main plotline of the The Broken Earth Trilogy, we tend to forget about the people who are left to suffer the aftermath of destruction, whether it stemmed from a Season or from conflict within the main story line. Sometimes when learning and talking about these cataclysmic events, we forget about how destructive they are as a whole. Somehow we are able to detach ourselves, and often forget the Season-like effects of these geologic events. Essun herself appears desensitized to the death and destruction surrounding her. She often refers casually to how she destroyed Tirimo, Allia, and Castrima, as if thousands of people didn’t die in those events. Destruction has become commonplace for Essun, and when reaching for the Obelisk Gate for the second time, Essun reflects on how “frivolous” she was with her previous use of the Gate. She reflects, “merely wiping out a city? You of all people didn’t need the Gate for that” (Jemisin, 381). The way she thinks of destroying a whole comm as “frivolous” shows how desensitized she is by the Seasons as does the phrase she uses, “merely wiping out a city.” The destruction of Banda Aceh and surrounding coasts is recognized around the world as one of the most deadly tsunamis in history. To Essun, this event would seem insignificant compared to a full season, even though people’s ways of life were destroyed.

At the beginning of The Stone Sky, just after Essun has the dawning realization that she has destroyed Castrima, Hoa states in the second person narrative, “You can’t take away people’s homes and sense of security in such an immediate, dramatic way, and expect them to consider extended chains of culpability before they get angry about it” (Jemisin 22). Ykka’s response to the awful tragedy that has befallen the comm she cared for so deeply is blame, when in the grand scheme of things, Essun may not be at fault because her hand was forced. In reality, based on personal accounts of the people of Banda Aceh, it seems that these people responded to the tsunami simply with spiritual feelings of thankfulness when it was over. In one personal account,  a survivor of the tsunami who spent all day rescuing other survivors after losing his family states, “…I didn’t know what to do. I went to the great mosque and slept there on the terrace and the tremors continued into the night.” Another man reported that he and his family were rescued by a police officer, expressing, “I was thanking God…” Through these examples, we can see how people’s reactions vary greatly to events that are out of their control, especially the life-changing ones experienced by both the people of the fictional Castrima and the people of Banda Aceh. The personal accounts of the people of Banda Aceh remind us how precious human life is, and how easily life can be lost.

Often times after a catastrophic event, society tends to focus on statistics like death tolls or magnitude and forget about the many lives that are affected by the disaster. As a result of all the destruction, many are displaced from their homes and have nowhere to go. These individuals are left to salvage what they can and try to rebuild their lives. In N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, there are many individuals who are left commless after a Season has occurred, and are forced onto the road. As Jemisin defines, those who are commless are “criminals and other undesirables unable to gain acceptance in any comm” (Jemisin 459). Here we can see a parallel between those who are left homeless due to natural disasters, and the characters, specifically Essun, who are unable to be accepted into any community and have to seek shelter on their own.

Whether it’s death, human or animal, economic loss, or environmental damage, there are extremely devastating effects that encompass the aftermath of a disastrous event like the Banda Aceh Tsunami. We still see that in our own reality, and we see it in Jemisin’s reality as well. Although there is not much to be done about the desensitization to destruction within the story of The Broken Earth Trilogy, we all have the capability to acknowledge disastrous events that occur in our reality and make an effort to not forget those whose lives are completely changed after any disaster.

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