In August, as Hurricane Irene unleashed wind and rain along the U.S. East Coast, author John Shors found himself on a book tour, promoting his new novel, “Cross Currents,” which was inspired by the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand and other south Asian countries in 2004.
Shor's connection to Thailand began back in the early 1990s, when he graduated from college and decided to pursue his dream of backpacking in Asia. He landed a teaching job in Japan and saved money to fund the adventure, which took him from India and China to Vietnam and Thailand.
“In Thailand, a beautiful little island is called Kho Phi Phi. I just fell in love with this place," he says. "It was an absolute paradise; no roads, turquoise water, white sand, very friendly people. I just felt like I had stumbled upon one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”
Once he discovered the island, it was hard not to go back.
“I had gone back to Kho Phi Phi several times. I became more connected with the island and the Thai people and the culture. I just really loved it.”
On December 26, 2004, Shors was at his house in Colorado when images of the Indian Ocean tsunami engulfing the island flashed across the world.
“I was horrified that the island, which is only six feet above sea level, had been very, very harmed by this tsunami. Those images got me thinking about writing a novel about that day, about the tragedies and triumphs of that day.”
An estimated 230,000 people died in the tsunami, about 8,000 in Thailand. Three years later, Shors returned to the island expecting to see devastation.
“I was amazed at how much had been built. People cleaned up together. I had a lot of conversations with people who talked about how they actually survived that day and how they helped others and how they then rebuilt the island.”
Those conversations inspired "Cross Currents."
The novel centers around resort owners Lek and Sarai, who are struggling to support their children. They give Patch, a friendly young American, room and board in exchange for some work. But Lek learns that Patch has an expired visa and is on the run, so his presence now endangers Lek’s family.
Before these issues are resolved, the tsunami hits and sweeps the characters in new directions.
“One of the reason this novel is called "Cross Currents" is because it’s not just about the tsunami. It’s about people of different cultures, living together and getting to know each other and how those cultures sort of mix in together,” Shors says.
In the novel, two monstrous waves hit the island from both ends, converging in the middle. They hit while Patch is on the beach playing soccer with young Thai children. Shors wanted to examine people’s gut reaction when a natural disaster strikes.
In order to survive, he says, people need to trust and rely on each other.
“Whether it's a tsunami in Japan or an earthquake in Pakistan or China or wherever, it really seems to bring out the best in people. Of course, Mother Nature has incredible powers, destructive powers sometimes, but we also have a power within ourselves. When we put our minds and spirit together, we can obviously accomplish wonderful things.”
The waves come and take things away, but Shors says the waves can't take everything because some things are stronger, even, than the sea.