On the morning of December 26, 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, husband, and two young sons in the tsunami that claimed the lives of over 230,000 people. The family had been vacationing in Deraniyagala’s native country of Sri Lanka, enjoying their beachfront hotel. In one horrifying instant that all changed: a massive wave leveled everything in sight, including the hotel the family had always stayed at during their visits. Deraniyagala was separated from her family during their frantic attempt to escape, swept away in the churning water. She miraculously survived, but when she woke up, her world as she knew it had changed forever.
The thing that struck me the most about this book was the detached and brutally honest way Deraniyagala writes about her experience during and after the disaster. She’s not the most “likeable” person; she bluntly recounts many of the thoughts that ran through her mind as she mentally prepared herself to receive confirmation that her family was dead; those thoughts include irritation towards a child crying for his parents in the hours after the tsunami. As her despair sinks deeper, so does her affability. Deraniyagala acts out in ways I’m sure she never could have fathomed before the tsunami.
Personally, I think it was brave of her to write the truth, pleasantries be damned. I cannot imagine the level of survivor’s guilt she has suffered through. In the days and months following the tsunami, safe amongst family in her childhood home, she recounts her struggles with suicidal thoughts and her descent into alcoholism. Many people in the area had lost loved ones, but she had the unique distinction of losing everyone: parents, husband, children. It was too much to bear. When Deraniyagala finally had the stomach to go back to her family’s home in London, the grief started anew. Her home was like a time capsule of the life she had over a year before, presenting new daily struggles to wrestle with, and, as she soon discovered, sometimes offering moments of reprieve as well.
Deraniyagala is perfectly honest about where her life was up to the point of her book being published, and it’s not hard to imagine where her life is now. Wave is not a cookie-cutter memoir about loss and grief that ends with rays of sunshine, and Deraniyagala deserves every one of the accolades she received last year because of that.
Wave was published in March 2013 by Knopf, an imprint of Random House.