Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: WAVE, by Sonali Deraniyagala

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala. Published 2013 by Knopf. Nonfiction. Memoir.

I remember the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, at least as well as a bystander thousands of miles away who was personally unaffected could. I remember being horrified by the mounting death toll and the sheer anarchy of the event, the way it seemed like a part of civilization was wiped out when the water crashed and receded. It's now estimated that 230,000 people were killed, with Indonesia suffering the greatest losses followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The tsunami was felt as far away as South Africa, where several people were killed.  It happened just after Christmas, on December 26 of that year, when New England was enveloped in a snowstorm and my family and I were sleeping off another sweet season of joy.

Economist and writer Sonali Deraniyagala remembers it as the day she lost her family- her parents, her husband Steven and her two sons Vikram and Malli. They were all killed on a vacation near her family home in Sri Lanka, in an instant, an instant she didn't even know was happening as she was locked in her own second-by-second struggle for survival. She brings these moments, as well as the months and years that followed, as her grief left her hollowed out and lost, to vivid, unforgettable life in her searing memoir, Wave.

It's hard to know how to react to this book except to want to sit down and cry. It's very difficult for me to imagine the depth and profundity of her loss, of the losses endured by everyone who lost everything to that terrifying event. The book is brave and honest. It must have been incredibly difficult to write. I'm sure she's had to describe it many times over the years but it's still hard to imagine sitting down day by day to bring it together coherently, systematically. It's the measured, controlled antithesis of the wave itself with its random, capricious force. But it's powerful, too, this book, a permanent memoir to her permanent loss.

Deraniyagala takes us through the event itself, to the slow-dawning and horrifying realization of the death of her family, to the first days and months of grieving and finally to the years that followed and the fragile peace of her everyday life. She makes us feel the insanity of it all, the terror and the emptiness and the little tiny bit of hopefulness, too. She brings her family to life for us, one last time, so that we can get to know them and through them the many worlds and people that were lost during that tragic storm.  It's a marvel of a book, which I think everybody should read.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.