Book review: Tsunami Kids by Paul Forkan and Rob Forkan

Who can forget the terrible events of the Boxing Day Tsunami which brought death and devastation to the people of South Asia ten years ago?

Tsunami Kids by Paul Forkan and Rob Forkan
Tsunami Kids by Paul Forkan and Rob Forkan

A massive undersea earthquake triggered a series of deadly tsunamis along the coasts of countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 people in 14 countries and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 100 feet high.

It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history and the island country of Sri Lanka was among the hardest hit.

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Sri Lanka’s survivors included British-born Paul, Rob, Mattie and Rosie Forkan from Mitcham in Greater London … but their miracle escape was overshadowed by the tragic loss of their parents.

The tsunami was just the beginning of an unimaginable journey for the four youngsters, aged from eight to 17, who faced a harrowing and solitary 125-mile trek to safety after the terrors of the tsunami.

The extraordinary story of their bravery, ingenuity and resilience has been brought to life in an inspirational account of tragedy and triumph written by brothers Paul and Rob, with the co-operation of younger siblings Mattie and Rosie.

Their father was Kevin Forkan, an adventurer and visionary who ‘grabbed life with both hands and squeezed it until the pips fell out.’ On the back of a successful clothing business, he and his wife Sandra, parents to six children, decided to head off to India with the four youngest and broaden their horizons.

The result was a very unusual upbringing. Taken out of school to travel abroad, the children received an unconventional education, learning independence and resourcefulness whilst carrying out voluntary work for charities in India alongside their parents.

It was whilst they were visiting Sri Lanka during that fateful Christmas of 2004 that ‘the sea, in all its anger and brutal violence, rose up and wiped out the world we knew,’ reveal Paul and Rob.

And so began the horrific events that changed their lives forever… but in the decade since the tsunami, Paul and Rob have achieved the seemingly impossible. They have created a multinational brand, Gandy’s Flip Flops.

Originally based in the front room of their rented flat in Brixton and now operating from a converted school in Clapham, the company has been endorsed by entrepreneurs, including Sir Richard Branson, and is going from strength to strength.

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They have also set up Orphans for Orphans, a charitable organisation supporting children deprived of education, nutrition and medication and helping youngsters in Sri Lanka.

Tsunami Kids is a moving tale of a young family who refused to let a terrible tragedy destroy either their inherited entrepreneurial spirit or their optimism for the future. It has been a tough road from the streets of Sri Lanka to the boardrooms of London but it was a journey that has helped them to make sense of what happened… and would have made their parents very proud.

(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £16.99)