Roughly a year ago, I was fast asleep in bed in Perugia when the ground shook so violently I woke and vowed there and then to give up drinking. I drifted off back to troubled sleep. Twenty minutes later, the ground shook again and then I got it: I was living through an earthquake. Sixty miles away, in Amatrice and its environs, 299 people were killed. There is something horrible about an earthquake. It undermines your faith in the normal, the everyday, the notion that the earth is, to borrow a phrase, strong and stable. On the scientific level, you can read up on plate tectonics and learn all about the ongoing subduction of the Eurasian Plate beneath the Adriatic Plate and so on. But, at a human level, you fear that you are losing your grip on reality. That sense of mental dislocation – the idea that the floor beneath my feet might turn into a fizzing liquid – still troubles me. The day after the big quake there was an aftershock. I was sitting in a cafe when the whole building wobbled like jelly and people began to run, dementedly, away.
The 2011 earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami with waves 120 feet high, shifted Japan’s main island a whole eight feet further east towards the United States, swamped a nuclear power station and killed more than 18,000 people. Richard Lloyd Parry’s extraordinary Ghosts of the Tsunami examines the mental dislocation