The powerful novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, about two friends who must face the pain of losing everything—and how to face their grief with courage.
Kino lives on a farm on the side of a mountain in Japan. His friend, Jiya, lives in a fishing village below. Everyone, including Kino and Jiya, has heard of the big wave. No one suspects it will wash over them, until the rushing water sweeps away the whole village—including Jiya's family.
As Jiya struggles to overcome his sorrow, with the help of Kino and his father, he comes to understand that it is only in the presence of danger that one learns to be brave, and that even in the face of terrible tragedy, life and love are stronger than death.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 26, 1892
Date of Death:March 6, 1973
Place of Birth:Hillsboro, West Virginia
Place of Death:Danby, Vermont
Read an Excerpt
The Big Wave
By Pearl S. Buck
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1948 Pearl S. Buck
All rights reserved.
Kino lived on a farm. The farm lay on the side of a mountain in Japan. The fields were terraced by walls of stone, each one of them like a broad step up the mountain. Centuries ago Kino's ancestors had built the stone walls that held up the fields.
Above all the fields stood the farmhouse that was Kino's home. Sometimes he felt the climb was a hard one, especially when he had been working in the lowest field and he wanted his supper. But after he had eaten at night and in the morning, he was glad that he lived so high up because he could look down on the broad blue ocean at the foot of the mountain.
The mountain rose so steeply out of the ocean that there was only a strip of sandy shore at its foot. Upon this strip was the small fishing village where Kino's father sold his vegetables and rice and bought his fish. From the window of his room Kino looked down upon the few thatched roofs of the village, running in two uneven lines on both sides of a cobbled street. These houses faced one another, and those that stood beside the sea did not have windows toward it. Since he enjoyed looking at the waves, Kino often wondered why the village people did not, but he never knew until he came to know Jiya, whose father was a fisherman.
Jiya lived in the last house in the row of houses toward the ocean, and his house did not have a window toward the sea either.
"Why not?" Kino asked him. "The sea is beautiful."
"The sea is our enemy," Jiya replied.
"How can you say that?" Kino asked. "Your father catches fish from the sea and sells them and that is how you live."
Jiya only shook his head. "The sea is our enemy," he repeated. "We all know it."
It was very hard to believe this. On hot sunny days, when he had finished his work, Kino ran down the path that wound through the terraces and met Jiya on the beach. They threw off their clothes and jumped into the clear sea water and swam far out toward a small island which they considered their own. Actually it belonged to an old gentleman whom they had never seen, except at a distance. Sometimes in the evening he came through the castle gate and stood looking out to sea. Then they could see him, leaning on his staff, his white beard blowing in the wind. He lived inside his castle behind a high fence of woven bamboo, on a knoll outside the village. Neither Kino or Jiya had ever been inside the gate, but sometimes when it was left open they had peeped into the garden. It was beautiful beyond anything they could imagine. Instead of grass the ground was covered with deep green moss shaded by pine trees and bamboos, and every day gardeners swept the moss with bamboo brooms until it was like a velvet carpet. They saw Old Gentleman walking under distant trees in a silver-gray robe, his hands clasped behind his back, his white head bent. He had a kind, wrinkled face, but he never saw them.
"I wonder if it is right for us to use his island without asking?" Kino asked today when they reached its beach of smooth white sand.
"He never uses it himself," Jiya replied. "Only the sacred deer live here."
The island was full of sacred deer. They were not afraid, for no one hurt them. When they saw the two boys they came to them, nuzzling into their hands for food. Sometimes Kino tied a little tin can of cakes about his waist and brought them with him to feed the deer. But he seldom had a penny, and now he reached high and picked the tender shoots of the rushes for them. The deer liked these very much and they laid their soft heads against his arm in gratitude.
Kino longed to sleep on the island some night, but Jiya was never willing. Even when they spent only the afternoon there he looked often out over the sea.
"What are you looking for?" Kino asked.
"Only to see that the ocean is not angry," Jiya replied.
Kino laughed. "Silly," he said. "The ocean cannot be angry."
"Yes, it can," Jiya insisted. "Sometimes the old ocean god begins to roll in his ocean bed and to heave up his head and shoulders, and the waves run back and forth. Then he stands upright and roars and the earth shakes under the water. I don't want to be on the island then."
"But why should he be angry with us?" Kino asked. "We are only two boys, and we never do anything to him."
"No one knows why the ocean grows angry," Jiya said anxiously.
But certainly the ocean was not angry this day. The sun sparkled deep into the clear water, and the boys swam over the silvery surface of rippling waves. Beneath them the water was miles deep. Nobody knew how deep it was, for however long the ropes that fishermen let down, weighted with iron, no bottom was ever found. Deep the water was, and the land sloped swiftly down to that fathomless ocean bed. When Kino dived, he went down—down—down, until he struck icy still water. Today when he felt the cold grasp his body he understood why Jiya was afraid, and he darted upward to the waves and the sun.
On the beach he threw himself down and was happy again, and he and Jiya searched for pebbles, blue and emerald, red and gold. They had brought little baskets woven like bags, which they had tied with string around their waists, and these they filled with the pebbles. Jiya's mother was making a pebble path in her rock garden, and nowhere were the pebbles so bright as on Deer Island.
When they were tired of the beach they went into the pine forest behind it and looked for caves. There was one cave that they always visited. They did not dare to go too deep into it, for it stretched downward and under the ocean. They knew this, and at the far end they could see the ocean filling it like a great pool and the tides rose and fell. The water was often phosphorescent and gleamed as though lamps were lighted deep beneath the surface. Once a bright fish lay dead on the rocky shore. In the dark cave it glittered in their hands, but when they ran with it into the sunshine, the colors were gone and it was gray. When they went back into the cave, it was bright again.
But however good a time they had on the island, Jiya looked often at the sun. Now he ran out on the beach and saw it sinking toward the west and he called to Kino.
"Come quickly—we must swim home."
Into the ocean, ruddy with sunset, they plunged together. The water was warm and soft and held them up, and they swam side by side across the broad channel. On the shore Jiya's father was waiting for them. They saw him standing, his hands shading his eyes against the bright sky, looking for them. When their two black heads bobbed out of the water he shouted to them and waded out to meet them. He gave a hand to each of them, pulling them out of the white surf.
"You have never been so late before, Jiya," he said anxiously.
"We were in the cave, Father," Jiya said.
But Jiya's father held him by the shoulders. "Do not be so late," he said, and Kino, wondering, looked at him and saw that even this strong fisherman was afraid of the anger of the sea.
He bade them good night and climbed the hill to his home and found his mother ready to set the supper on the table. The food smelled delicious—hot fragrant rice, chicken soup, brown fish.
No one was worried about Kino. His father was washing himself, pouring water over his face and head with a dipper, and his little sister, Setsu, was fetching the chopsticks.
In a few minutes they were all sitting on the clean mat around a low square table, and the parents were filling the children's bowls. Nobody spoke, for it is not polite to speak until the food is served and everybody has had something to eat.
But when the supper was over and Kino's father was drinking a little hot wine out of a very small cup, and his mother was gathering together the black lacquered wood rice bowls, Kino turned to his father.
"Father, why is Jiya afraid of the ocean?" he asked.
"The ocean is very big," Kino's father replied. "Nobody knows its beginning or its end."
"Jiya's father is afraid, too," Kino said.
"We do not understand the ocean," his father said.
"I am glad we live on the land," Kino went on. "There is nothing to be afraid of on our farm."
"But one can be afraid of the land, too," his father replied. "Do you remember the great volcano we visited last autumn?"
Kino did remember. Each autumn, after the harvest was in, the family took a holiday. They always walked, even little Setsu. They carried packs of food and bedding on their backs and in their hands tall staffs to help them up the mountainsides, and then forgetting all their daily tasks they walked to some famous spot. At home a kind neighbor tended the chickens and looked after the place. Last autumn they had gone to visit a great volcano twenty miles away. Kino had never seen it before, but he had heard of it often, and sometimes on a clear day, far to the edge of the sky, if he climbed the hill behind the farm, he could see a gray, fanlike cloud. It was the smoke from the volcano, his father had told him. Sometimes the earth trembled even under the farm. That was the volcano, too.
Yes, he could remember the great yawning mouth of the volcano. He had looked down into it and he had not liked it. Great curls of yellow and black smoke were rolling about in it, and a white stream of melted rock was crawling slowly from one corner. He had wanted to go away, and even now at night sometimes when he was warm in his soft cotton quilt in his bed on the matting floor he was glad the volcano was so far away and that there were at least three mountains between.
Now he looked at his father across the low table. "Must we always be afraid of something?" he asked.
His father looked back at him. He was a strong wiry thin man and the muscles on his arms and legs were corded with hard work. His hands were rough but he kept them clean, and he always went barefoot except for straw sandals. When he came into the house, he took even these off. No one wore shoes in the house. That was how the floors kept so clean.
"We must learn to live with danger," he now said to Kino.
"Do you mean the ocean and the volcano cannot hurt us if we are not afraid?" Kino asked.
"No," his father replied. "I did not say that. Ocean is there and volcano is there. It is true that on any day ocean may rise into storm and volcano may burst into flame. We must accept this fact, but without fear. We must say, 'Someday I shall die, and does it matter whether it is by ocean or volcano, or whether I grow old and weak?' ?
"I don't want to think about such things," Kino said.
"It is right for you not to think about them," his father said. "Then do not be afraid. When you are afraid, you are thinking about them all the time. Enjoy life and do not fear death—that is the way of a good Japanese."
There was much in life to enjoy. Kino had a good time every day. In the winter he went to a school in the fishing village, and he and Jiya shared a seat. They studied reading and arithmetic and all the things that other children learn in school. But in the summer Kino had to work hard on the farm, for his father needed help. Even Setsu and the mother helped when the rice seedlings had to be planted in the flooded fields on the terraces, and they helped, too, when the grain was ripe and had to be cut into sheaves and threshed. On those days Kino could not run down the mountainside to find Jiya. When the day was over he was so tired he fell asleep over his supper.
But there were days when Jiya also was too busy to play. Word came in from the fishermen up the coast that a school of fish was passing through the channels and then every fishing boat made haste to sail out of the bays and inlets into the main currents of the sea. Early in the morning, sometimes so early that the light was still that of the setting moon, Jiya and his father sailed their boat out across the silvery sea, to let down their nets at dawn. If they were lucky the nets came up so heavy with fish that it took all their strength to haul them up, and soon the bottom of the boat was flashing and sparkling with the wriggling fish.
Sometimes, if it were not seedtime or harvest, Kino went with Jiya and his father. It was an exciting thing to get up in the night and dress himself in his warm padded jacket tied around his waist. Even in summer the wind was cool over the sea at dawn. However early he got up, his mother always got up, too, and gave him a bowl of hot rice soup and some bean curd and hot tea before he started. Then she packed his lunch in a clean little wooden box, cold rice and fish and a bit of radish pickle.
Down the stone steps of the mountain path Kino ran straight to the narrow dock where the fishing boats bobbed up and down on the tide. Jiya and his father were already there, and in a few minutes the boat was nosing its way between the rocks out to the open sea. Sails set and filling with the wind, they sped straight into the dawn-lit sky. Kino crouched down on the floor behind the bow and felt his heart rise with joy and excitement. The shore fell far behind them and the boat took on the deep swell of the ocean. Soon they came to a whole fleet of fishing boats, and then together they flew after the schools of fish. It was like being a bird in a flock, flying into the sky. How exciting it was, too, to pull up the fish! At such times Kino felt Jiya was more lucky than he. Fish harvest was much easier than rice harvest.
"I wish my father were a fisherman," he would tell Jiya. "It is stupid to plow and plant and cut the sheaves, when I could just come out like this and reap fish from the sea."
Jiya shook his head. "But when the storms come, you wish yourself back upon the earth," he said. Then he laughed. "How would fish taste without rice? Think of eating only fish!"
"We need both farmers and fisherman," Jiya's father said.
On days when the sky was bright and the winds mild the ocean lay so calm and blue that it was hard to believe that it could be cruel and angry. Yet even Kino never quite forgot that under the warm blue surface the water was cold and green. When the sun shone the deep water was still. But when the deep water moved and heaved and stirred, ah, then Kino was glad that his father was a farmer and not a fisherman.
And yet, one day, it was the earth that brought the big wave. Deep under the deepest part of the ocean, miles under the still green waters, fires raged in the heart of the earth. The icy cold of the water could not chill those fires. Rocks were melted and boiled under the crust of the ocean's bed, under the weight of the water, but they could not break through. At last the steam grew so strong that it forced its way through to the mouth of the volcano. That day, as he helped his father plant turnips, Kino saw the sky overcast halfway to the zenith.
"Look, Father!" he cried. "The volcano is burning again!"
His father stopped and gazed anxiously at the sky. "It looks very angry," he said. "I shall not sleep tonight."
All night while the others slept, Kino's father kept watch. When it was dark, the sky was lit with red and the earth trembled under the farmhouses. Down at the fishing village lights in the little houses showed that other fathers watched, too. For generations fathers had watched earth and sea.
Morning came, a strange fiery dawn. The sky was red and gray, and even here upon the farms cinders and ash fell from the volcano. Kino had a strange feeling, when he stepped barefoot upon the earth, that it was hot under his feet. In the house the mother had taken down everything from the walls that could fall or be broken, and her few good dishes she had packed into straw in a basket and set outside.
"Shall we have an earthquake, Father?" Kino asked as they ate breakfast.
"I cannot tell, my son," his father replied. "Earth and sea are struggling together against the fires inside the earth."
No fishing boats set sail that hot summer morning. There was no wind. The sea lay dead and calm, as though oil had been poured upon the waters. It was a purple gray, suave and beautiful, but when Kino looked at it he felt afraid.
"Why is the sea such a color?" he asked.
"Sea mirrors sky," his father replied. "Sea and earth and sky—if they work together against man, it will be dangerous indeed for us."
"Where are the gods at such a time?" Kino asked. "Will they not be mindful of us?"
"There are times when the gods leave man to take care of himself," his father replied. "They test us, to see how able we are to save ourselves."
"And if we are not able?" Kino asked.
"We must be able," his father replied. "Fear alone makes man weak. If you are afraid, your hands tremble, your feet falter, and your brain cannot tell hands and feet what to do."
Excerpted from The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck. Copyright © 1948 Pearl S. Buck. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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