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In my book, Swept Away (originally named Gutless), Kenji has survivor’s guilt. What is it?

When someone goes through a traumatic event where others die but he lives, he feels he had done something wrong. This guilt has recently been classified as part of post traumatic stress disorder. When does this happen? Soldiers can feel this way when they survive but their comrades die. Those who have lived through a plane crash that killed many of the passengers can have this feeling. These people are not to blame for others perishing, but they carry the guilt.

In Swept Away, Kenji watches a massive tsunami kill his parents and his sister from the safety of his school up on a hill. He dashes into the tsunami to save his sister, but he fails. He believes that he should have saved his family. He relives the incident over and over in his mind and concocts ways that he could have saved them. He feels gutless for having done too little and guilty for letting them die. In reality, there was nothing a boy could do against the forces of an ocean gone wild. His feelings are irrational, but guilt consumes him.

It takes a long time for people with survivor’s guilt to accept that there was nothing they could have done, that the deaths were not their fault. In Swept Away, through harsh regimented life at a sumo training center, Kenji growers stronger. When he is faced with a life and death situation again, he understands that he was not responsible for his family’s death.

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