Wave is the story of Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her entire family – her two sons, her husband, and her parents – in mere seconds during the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. The book itself is small, the size of a diary, and indeed, that is what the narrative reads like. It is perhaps the most intimate memoir I’ve ever encountered, a true feat of human courage.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to the fainthearted. It is strikingly difficult to read, but so beautifully written, and so raw, so unflinching, that I consider it to be the best depiction I’ve seen in capturing human despair. The tsunami occurred almost a decade ago, and this memoir is the product of that much time spent in grief, self-reflection, and healing.
As I read, I began to examine why I loved Wave so much – because this isn’t a book one could “like” or feel indifferent toward – it demands complete attention and strong emotion. Am I some sort of voyeur in the misery of others? Is there something ugly about me that finds this story so riveting? The answer I came up with, after some thought, however, is that I love Wave because it explores a facet of humanity that is so often covered and hidden in everyday life. Grief is unseemly. Misery is not to be made public. But Deraniyagala breaks through all those social mores and is the hero of her story, in her ownership of her misery, in baring the worst parts of her soul for all to scrutinize. She is extraordinarily brave.
Most meaningful to me, personally, were Deraniyagala’s struggles with her memories. On the one hand, she savors her recollections: The cadences of Steve’s East London accent, the sound of Vikram’s violin practice, the curl of her mother’s fingers over a spoon, stirring dhal. But on the other, Deraniyagala wonders if, to survive this heartbreak, she must make her memories “murky” – either through time, or through force of will. The remembering can be too cuttingly poignant, too painful. But my favorite bit is near the end, because it shows the beginning of a kind of peace with this internal struggle:
More and more now I keep my balance while staring into us. And I welcome this, a small triumph, it lights me up.
Deraniyagala keeps going. She makes tea. She does the dishes. She sleeps and she eats. She remembers, and she plans. And because of this, because of her superhuman strength to choose, daily, to keep living, ultimately, there is hope.