Review: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

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cover of wave by Deraniyagala“They are my world. How do I make them dead?” This is Sonali Deraniyagala’s thought after losing her husband Steve, their two sons, and her parents to a tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.

Deraniyagala’s memoir Wave (March 2013; Knopf) is a first-hand account of surviving this natural disaster without her family as she describes the events and her memories in order to continue her life. It takes her six months to return to her parents’ home, and a full three years and eight months to return to their home in London.

Her story begins on the morning following Christmas at a hotel in Sri Lanka. The family, who split their time between London and Sri Lanka, are spending Christmas vacation at a natural park in Yala. While her husband Steve is in the bathroom and their two sons Malli and Vik are playing with their Christmas presents, Deraniyagala notices the incoming tide. She calls for Steve, and amidst their instincts to run inland, she is consciously aware that she passes by her parents’ room without knocking. There is no time. They reach a jeep and jump inside; however, the wave is faster and engulfs them.

Deraniyagala pulls us right into the action of the gigantic wave as it sweeps her family away. We travel with her through the water and muck and sludge as she describes it fully: how it sounded, felt and tasted. She seems half-conscious of her rescue when she is taken to a hospital and then to her aunt’s house in Colombo. Nobody else from her family emerges alive. Over the years, she struggles to recall memories to keep them alive within her. She returns to the scene of the disaster and notices “the jungle begin[s] to revive” as new greenery pushes past sand and debris. Like the land, she begins her own healing, as well.

Although the writing begins as choppy at times, it is fitting with the events as they unfold. Her thoughts are scattered but meaningful, and it is understandable when she mentions ways to kill herself. At times her voice is almost stoic, but eventually she offers a deeper look into her family life. The book follows a sequence-of-events timeline; however, her family members become more alive toward the end. Perhaps this is how she meant it to be, even though it may seem more logical to present them more fully in the beginning.

This detailed look into a lone survivor’s life after a natural disaster will appeal to anyone who has lived through a similar catastrophe. But it’s also a worthwhile read for those who haven’t, because while some can’t imagine the grief the author endures, she definitely pulls us into the depths of her story and what she must do to survive the rest of her life.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

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