When a Heart Is Empty

On Dec. 26, 2004, the French author Emmanuel Carrère, his girlfriend and their respective sons were vacationing at a cliff-top hotel in Sri Lanka. Their relationship was dying and, feeling out of sorts, they decided not to go down to the beachfront scuba diving lesson they’d signed up for. It was a consequential decision, for that was the morning the tsunami hit.

A family they knew was staying on the beach. That morning the grandfather, Philippe, was reading the paper while his 4-year-old…

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