Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is a slender memoir by a woman who survived the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004. She and her family—her husband, her sons, and her parents—were on vacation, waking up from a Christmas celebration the day before, when they saw the wave coming and tried to escape. Only she survives and the rest of the book explores the impossibility of her grief while sharing the abbreviated story of the lives of those she lost.
How does a mother, a wife, a daughter write about these things? How does a woman write about the death of her husband, both of her sons, her parents? How does she stay sane in the face of so much loss? How does she face her survivor’s guilt without falling into self-abuse or without falling apart altogether?
Deraniyagala is able to balance a brutal honesty with self-compassion. She does not withhold the reality of her anger, resenting a child who survives when she still wonders if her own sons have survived. She exposes a guilt for not having paused at the door of her parents’ room to warn them of the oncoming wave.
But the memoir also shares the stories of each of the people and through Deraniyagala’s eyes we come to know her sons so well that it becomes easy to imagine what their lives might have been like had they survived. You fall in love with her husband and admire her parents for giving her wings to fly. The back story is told alongside her grief so that the two are never really separate on the page or in the reader’s mind. Above all else, the author manages to exude a delicate love for each of the people she lost in one impossible moment that I found myself feeling like the world had lost some very precious souls, people who could have made the world lighter and brighter but are now no longer with us.
To share about the experience of being swept away in the tsunami itself. To explore her grief in having lost so much. To put into words the love she had growing up, in her marriage, as a mother. It is a testament to her that the author has done so in so few pages. And that she does also manages to write a memoir that leaves the reader feeling light in spite of the weight of her story is too remarkable for words.
I cannot praise this book enough. One I will recommend to everyone. One that I will share with anyone who wants to borrow it. Breathtaking. Devastating. Beautiful. I wish I could thank Deraniyagala for creating this miraculous memoir in person.
Thank you, Sonali Deraniyagala. Thank you.