Confession: I started Wave stuck in the ears, but didn’t get very far because the narrator seems to have a lisp – which is not a judgment about the reader herself, but my little ears had too challenging a time comprehending each sentence. This is a book for which absorbing every word is a must, so I resorted gratefully to the page. Bottom line: Wave is the most unflinching, illuminating memoir about horrific personal tragedy I have ever, ever come across.
The title begins in Yala, a national park on Sri Lanka’s southeastern coast, on December 26, 2004. What should have been the final day of an annual holiday break for a London-based family of four with their Sri Lankan grandparents is brought to a shattering end when an epic tsunami claims over 230,000 lives. Sonali Deraniyagala is her family’s sole survivor, losing her parents, husband, and two young sons. She wants nothing else but to join them: “I will kill myself soon.”
Over the next eight years, Deraniyagala – an Oxbridge-trained economist – progresses from utter “stunned” shutdown to allowing herself to admit the truth of her loss, to revisiting her memories little by little, and to opening her mind and heart to what her life might have become with her family intact. From obsessively bullying the Dutch renters of her Sri Lankan childhood home, to sleeping four years later in the unchanged bed of her London house, to finally being able to spend time with her sons’ maturing friends, Deraniyagala’s journey is simultaneously wrenching and remarkably hopeful.
Take note: the memoir is dedicated to “Alexandra and Kristiana” – the heart breaks yet again (and again and again) when you realize that entwined in those names are Deraniyagala’s children as they could have been, should have been. That a person can survive such loss is beyond comprehension; that she is able to share that experience with such unflinching, raw vulnerability is pure testimony to human resilience … and ultimately proves to be a literary gift of magnificent proportions.