Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
This was a pick-up at my favorite independent bookstore last weekend. I found it engrossing in the beginning, although I struggled to finish it. Not because it was bad, or even too heavy. I think I was just easily distracted.
Wave is Dr. Sonali Deraniyagala’s story about her life after the 2004 tsunami that wracked Southeast Asia. She was visiting a resort town in her native Sri Lanka with her parents, husband, and two sons. She was the only one to survive the tsunami.
Each section of this book follows a timeline, from the moment just before the tsunami hit through 2012, when Dr. Deraniyagala is teaching in New York City. It is heartbreaking at times (obviously), but it doesn’t feel like any other book of loss I’ve read. I think part of that is due to the fact that the book continues over so many years; it isn’t just about her first year of trying to get through the pain; it is about how her life has changed and how it hasn’t. It’s about how she is honest with herself but not honest with strangers when it comes to that part of her life.
I am having trouble describing the feelings the book brought up in me. This wasn’t about a ‘triumphant journey of unimaginable tragedy,’ this was instead a look into the life of one individual dealing with loss on a very large scale. Yet it’s often confined to chapters of the author unwilling to leave her room, or the house she is in, or the city she is in.
There is no one moment where she rises up and ‘moves on,’ instead the book serves as a way for Dr. Deraniyagala to both share the story of her life since 2012, and also share who her sons and husband were. There are stories of Dr. Deraniyagala contemplating suicide in a very matter-of-fact manner, but there are also stories about how much her son Vik loved blue whales. It’s both a love letter to her family and a way to let the world know a little bit about what it is like for someone to work through loss on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
I think this is a book worth reading. I appreciate that it wasn’t as simplistic as some of the memoirs I’ve read; Dr. Deraniyagala shares the reality of loss in a way I haven’t read before. I don’t know if it would be helpful for someone who has lost a child or partner, but I can see it providing some confirmation that grief manifests in myriad ways, and that’s just how it is.