Book Review: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

This unsentimental and visceral account of one woman’s grief and loss after losing her entire family in the 2004 tsunami is a powerful read. Wave - Sonali Deraniyagala

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Published: March 5th 2013 by Knopf/Random House

Source: local library

Synopsis (Goodreads): On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.

My thoughts: I picked up this memoir because I was working on an article about biographies and memoirs written by women. I did not expect to stay up late reading this enthralling and heart-breaking story of a woman who survives a disaster on a scale I cannot fathom but loses her closest family.

In breathtaking prose that will make your heart pound, Deraniyagala matter-of-factly relays the tragedy of surviving a horrific natural disaster but losing your children, husband, and parents. I was completely captivated by her story of grief and depression. Without trying to make sense of or justify her actions, she relays the events during and after the catastrophic events. Her writing is visceral without feeling manipulative, moving without eliciting a trace of pity.

I happened to be reading this on an evening I received family news that was unsettling and infuriating and brought old sadness and grief related to losing my father to the surface. Yet reading about her experience left me with a heavy dose of perspective. Despite any loss I’ve suffered, it is nothing to compare with what Deraniyagala faced, and continues to deal with to this day. Deraniyagala doesn’t intend to leave the reader with a heavy-handed message or any sort of guilt over the trivial losses they suffer. She simply recounts her experiences and invites the reader to relate to it as she will.

It doesn’t do justice to Wave to call it a moving tribute to a lost loved ones, thought it is, and calling Deraniyagala brave seems at once apt and trite. This is a memoir I won’t soon forget and a reading experience I highly recommend. Wave is a quick, powerful read that will change the way you think about life and love, grief and survival.

Recommended for fans of: grief memoirs, or anyone looking for a moving book that gives a more personal context to the news coverage or natural disasters

Second opinions:

Cheryl Strayed for The New York Times: ” I didn’t feel as if I was going to cry while reading “Wave.” I felt as if my heart might stop.”

Bad Cursive: ” She is straight forward with her prose. There is no fluff, only Deraniyagala telling readers her personal thoughts, even the nasty ones, as she moves through this tragedy.”

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