Wave [NOOK Book]

Overview

One of The New York Times's 10 Best Books of the Year, a Christian Science Monitor Best Nonfiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Books pick, a People magazine Top 10 pick, a Good Reads Best Book of the Year, and a Kirkus Best Nonfiction Book

A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist

In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were ...

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Wave

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Overview

One of The New York Times's 10 Best Books of the Year, a Christian Science Monitor Best Nonfiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Books pick, a People magazine Top 10 pick, a Good Reads Best Book of the Year, and a Kirkus Best Nonfiction Book

A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist

In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were swept away by a tsunami. Only Sonali survived to tell their tale. This is her account of the nearly incomprehensible event and its aftermath.

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The great Asian tsunami of December 2004 killed approximately 230,000 people. For Dr. Sonali Deraniyagala, that number still has less impact than what she saw with her own eyes: Within seconds, her husband and her two sons were drowned as they tried to outrun the sudden, violent waves; and in a hotel not far away, both her parents were washed away to almost instant death. In this poignant, yet spare and unsentimental memoir, she writes movingly of the life that she shared with the people she lost and how those memories helped her deal with her grief. Editor's recommendation.

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
Wave is a granular, tactile working through of grief, regret and survivor's guilt. It maintains a tight focus. Don't arrive here looking for statistics and a journalistic overview of the tsunami…It's a somber volume that suggests that Julian Barnes was right about grief, when he wrote in Flaubert's Parrot that you don't emerge from it cleanly, as if from a tunnel into sunshine. "You come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil slick," he wrote. "You are tarred and feathered for life"…Stories of grief, like stories of love, are of permanent literary interest when done well. I'm not convinced that Ms. Deraniyagala is a great writer…but a form of greatness reverberates from her simple and supple prose here.
The New York Times Book Review - Cheryl Strayed
…the most exceptional book about grief I've ever read. In prose that's immaculately unsentimental and raggedly intimate, Deraniyagala takes us deep into her unfathomable loss…In spite of its subject matter, she manages to imbue the book with the faintest whiff of hope. Not the cheesy, cooked-up hope that comes with a lifetime guarantee of happiness, but the real kind of hope, the tiny sort that one has no choice but to cling to when everything else has been ripped away. The word "brave" is used a lot to describe those who write about their deepest traumas—too often, I think—but it's an apt description of Deraniyagala. She has fearlessly delivered on memoir's greatest promise: to tell it like it is, no matter the cost. The result is an unforgettable book that isn't only as unsparing as they come, but also defiantly flooded with light.
Publishers Weekly
Deraniyagala's debut book recounts her life after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami took the lives of her parents, husband, and two sons in Sri Lanka. After being pulled from the muddy wasteland that was formerly the jungle surrounding her hotel, Sonali is taken to a hospital where the reality of her family's death creeps into her psyche. As their bodies are found, Sonali begins to withdraw from the world, searching the internet for the best way to kill herself, drinking every drop of alcohol she can find—including bottles of aftershave—and tormenting the renters of her parents' now vacant house. As she gradually returns to her life, she begins to find the absence of things intolerable, nearly breaking down when she doesn't hear her husband or sons in the house, secretly eating chocolate in the guest room. This is a story not about overcoming grief and loss, but of embracing reality in the face of pain and sadness. It packs an immense punch for being so short—or perhaps because it is so short. Conquering the clear difficulties that come with talking about such profound absences, Deraniyagala has written a book teaming with beautiful ruminations on the bittersweetness of memory and the precariousness of life. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“The most powerful and haunting book I have read in years.”
—Michael Ondaatje

“Unforgettable. . . . The most exceptional book about grief I’ve ever read. . . . [Deraniyagala] has fearlessly delivered on memoir’s greatest promise: to tell it like it is, no matter the cost. . . . As unsparing as they come, but also defiantly flooded with light. . . . Extraordinary.”
—Cheryl Strayed, The New York Times Book Review

“Unforgettable . . . It is a miracle Deraniyagala lived. The fact that she could write such a memoir, bringing those she loved to life so completely that they breathe on the page, is itself a miracle.”
Vanity Fair

“Out of unimaginable loss comes an unimaginably powerful book. . . . I urge you to read Wave. You will not be the same person after you’ve finished.”
—Will Schwalbe

“Vivid. . . . What emerges from this wizardry most clearly is, of course, Deraniyagala herself—carrying within her present life another gorgeously remembered one.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“An amazing, beautiful book.”
—Joan Didion

“Stories of grief, like stories of love, are of permanent literary interest when done well. . . . Greatness reverberates from [Deraniyagala’s] simple and supple prose.”
The New York Times

“Turns revealing into art as powerful as a planetary vibration.”
The Plain Dealer

“Both heartbreaking and astonishingly beautiful.”
New York Post

“[Deraniyagala’s family] spring from these pages with an exuberance and dimensionality that lifts Wave from memoir into some virtual realm of documentation.”
The Boston Globe

“[A] quiet memoir of torturous loss. . . . Deraniyagala tours memories of her young family’s history with artistry.”
The New Yorker

“A haunting chronicle of love and horrifying loss. . . . Memory, sorrow, and undying love.”
—Abraham Verghese

“Radiant. . . . The extremity of Deraniyagala’s story seizes the attention, but it’s the beauty of how she expresses it that makes it indelible. . . . [She is] a writer of such extraordinary gifts. . . . Wave is a small, slender book, but it is enormous on the inside.” 
Salon

“Chillingly real. . . . Wave captures the elusive, shape-shifting nature of grief.”
Newsday

“Beautiful and ravaging . . . faultless prose.”
Daily Herald

“Immeasurably potent. . . . Relentless in its explication of grief, this massively courageous, tenaciously unsentimental chronicle of unthinkable loss and incremental recovery explodes—and then expands—our notion of what love really means.”
More magazine

Library Journal
The Indian Ocean tsunami that broke loose on December 26, 2004, killed something like 230,000 people, including Deraniyagala's parents, husband, and two young sons. And though she opens by taking us straight into the wave, 30 feet high and rushing toward Sri Lanka at 25 miles an hour, her book is ultimately an account of her coping with her grief while also celebrating the memories of those she loved. As she ranges over her childhood in Colombo, meeting her English husband at Cambridge, and the birth of her children, we learn how she managed to keep these wrenching memories, and hence her family, with her.
Kirkus Reviews
A devastating but ultimately redemptive memoir by a survivor of the 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami, who must come to terms with the deaths of her husband, her young sons and her parents from the natural disaster that somehow spared her. Deraniyagala is an economist, and her matter-of-fact account is all the more powerful for its lack of literary flourish, though the craft and control reflect an exceptional literary command. Every word in these short, declarative sentences appears to have been chosen with great care, as if to sentimentalize the experience or magnify the horror (as if that were possible) would be a betrayal of all she has lost. It's no surprise when the first and strongest acknowledgment goes to her therapist: "This book would not exist without his guidance and persuasion. With him I was safe, to try and grasp the unfathomable, and to dare to remember." "The water was pulling me along with a speed I did not recognize, propelling me forward with a power I could not resist," she writes of what she later learned was "the biggest natural disaster ever," one that would claim a quarter of a million casualties. "I had to surrender to this chaos…," she continues. "My mind could not sort anything out." Eventually, the numbness of her survival gives way to profound guilt (she should have done something, she should never have brought them there), rage, a refusal to sleep (lest she awake to the fantasy that her family was still alive), an attempt to avoid any experience or memories she shared with them and an obsessive pull toward suicide. And then, as miraculously as her rescue, she eventually reached the point where "I want to remember. I want to know." The more she remembers about their life before the tsunami, and in greater depth and detail, she writes "I am stunned. I want to put a fist through these last six years and grab our life. Claim it back." Excellent. Reading her account proves almost as cathartic as writing it must have been.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307962706
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 16,861
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Sonali Deraniyagala teaches in the Department of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  She is currently a visiting research scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York, working on issues of economic development, including post-disaster recovery.
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Read an Excerpt

sri lanka, july–-december 2005
 
Someone had removed the brass plate with my father’s name on it from the gray front wall. It had his name etched in black italics. I sat in the passenger seat of my friend Mary--Anne’s car, my eyes clinging to the holes in the wall where that brass plate was once nailed.
 
This had been my parents’ home in Colombo for some thirty--five years, and my childhood home. For my sons it was their home in Sri Lanka. They were giddy with excitement when we visited every summer and Christmas. Vik took his first steps here, and Malli, when younger, called the house “Sri Lanka.” And in our last year, 2004, when Steve and I had sabbaticals from our jobs and the four of us spent nine months in Colombo until September, this house was the hub of our children’s lives.
 
This was where we were to return to on the afternoon of the twenty--sixth of December. My mother had already given Saroja, our cook, the menu for dinner. This was where they didn’t come back to. Now, six months after the wave, I dared to set eyes on this house.
 
I was wary as I sat in Mary--Anne’s car, which was parked by our front wall. I didn’t want to look around. I was afraid of seeing too much. But I couldn’t help myself, I peeked.
 
Apart for the now nameless wall, the outside of the house had not changed. The tall iron gates still had spikes on top to keep burglars out. The rail on the balcony was white and safe. The mango tree I was parked under was the same mango tree that gave me an allergic reaction when it flowered, that sickly tree, dark blotches on its leaves. I noticed some small black stones on the driveway, and I remembered. Vik would juggle with these stones when he waited out here for the New Lanka Caterers van to come by selling kimbula paan—-sugarcoated bread rolls shaped as crocodiles.
 
It was a humid, sticky afternoon, and Mary--Anne rolled down the car windows. From its perch on a nearby telephone post, a bulbul trilled. And I recalled the pair of red--vented bulbuls that nested in the lamp that hung in the car porch, just over the front wall. In the hollow of the glass lampshade, there would be a nest built with dried twigs and leaves and even a green drinking straw. The boys were spellbound by the arrival of fidgety chicks, still part covered in pale red shell. They watched the first flutter from that lamp many times, shooing off the mob of crows that rallied on the wall waiting for an unready chick to drop to the ground. Now I could see the two of them, placing a chair under the lamp to stand on and get a better look. Shoving each other off that chair. My turn now. I wanna see the baby bird. Get off.
 
A phone rang indoors. It made me shiver. It was the same phone, the same ring. From my father’s study on the other side of this wall, the phone kept ringing, no one picked it up. Now I could hear my father push back his chair to go tell my mother that it is her sister calling, again. I could hear him open the door of his study. A bunch of keys always dangled on that door. They tapped against the door’s glass panel when it was opened or shut. I could hear them jingle.
 
In the past months, I’d been unable to focus on the death of my parents. I’d held back thoughts of them, so utterly bewildered was I by the loss of my boys and Steve. Now, as I lingered outside this house, my parents emerged, a little.
 
Then I saw through the branches of the mango tree that the windows of the bedroom upstairs were closed. That was my bedroom when I was a child. Then Vik and Malli slept there when we visited. Getting them to bed in that room took forever. They’d call to my mother to plead for yet another fizzy drink, and she’d gladly oblige. They’d squabble, trying to stretch a too--small mosquito net over two adjacent beds, and argue about how dark the room should be. Vik wanted some light, Malli did not. He’d say, “Don’t be scared, Vik. It’s good when it’s all really black. You can see your dreams better.”
 
I looked away from that upstairs bedroom. I stared at the empty space on the wall where the nameplate used to be. They must be still in that room, surely. It’s impossible they are not.
 
I didn’t go inside. Mary--Anne squeezed my hand as she started up the car to drive off. And I remembered how, on our last morning here, the day we left for Yala, I’d woken before the boys and packed their Christmas presents in two red bags. Vik had written his name on those bags with a black marker pen, one of those permanent ones.
 
I went back to the house at night because I could not bear to step inside in daylight. The tall metal gates shut, not partly open as they used to be. All the rooms in darkness, windows closed. The house was hushed, shuddering in disbelief. A solitary light burned on the balcony, another in the car porch. I glanced quickly at the lamp in the porch, some scraps of a nest, no birds. The large wooden front door rumbled back on its rollers. I kept my sandals on as I walked in, not kicking them off by the tall, bronze--framed mirror on the wall below the stairs, as I used to.
 
As I walked through those front doors, the huge silence of the house ripped through me. I had tried to come inside here on many nights before but hadn’t made it past the gates. Damn you, I kicked those metal gates, all those gin and tonics I’d knocked back powering my legs. Damn this house. Damn everything.
 
The house I entered was transformed, empty and vast, bereft. Just a few pieces of furniture remained, repositioned, displaced. The floors now bare, no rugs to absorb my footsteps. The walls gleamed with new paint that concealed even the impressions left by the mirrors, the paintings, and old blue and white porcelain plates that had been taken down.
 
I didn’t want this barrenness. I yearned for the house as it was, as we left it. I wanted to sit on every couch, on every chair they sat on, and maybe some warmth would seep into me. I wanted wardrobes full of their clothes, a mixed--up mound of the boys’ underwear in ours, a neat stack of my father’s white handkerchiefs in his. I wished I could pick up a book Vik had been reading from the table by our bed, and turn to the page he’d folded to mark where he had stopped. I wanted the green roll--on stick of mosquito repellant on that table, drying out because we had left the cap off. But none of this could be. Broken and bewildered, my brother had the house cleared and packed away, painted and polished, all in the first month or two after the wave. For him, that was the practical thing to do, to impose order on the unfathomable, perhaps. I had been collapsed on a bed in my aunt’s house at the time and could not contemplate returning to my parents’ house. I quaked at the very thought of it.
 
Now, in this stillness, sterile with the odor of varnish and paint, I hunted traces of us. A pencil stub with the end chewed off perhaps, a scrunched--up grocery bill, a hair floating across the floor, a squiggle made with a pen on a wall, a scrape of a fork on a table. But there was nothing. No dent,
no chipped paint on the wooden banister along the stairs where a ball had been lobbed too hard. The drops of crimson nail polish on the white table in my parents’ bedroom had vanished. The chocolate smears on the sofa bleached out. Surely this cannot be. There must be some atom of our life hidden here, lingering in this quiet somewhere.
 
And then I saw it. The mat. Just a small square black rubber mat with little round bristles, unremarkable. But I was transfixed. This was the mat Vik wiped his muddy feet on when he bounded in from the garden. The very same mat. It was inside the house now, tossed to the side by the stairs, not on the step leading out to the garden as it should be. No one had bothered to dispose of it, no one had bothered to clean it up. The gaps between the bristles were flecked with scraps of disintegrating dried grass, grains of sand, a morsel of dead beetle that the ants had tired of. Was that an imprint of Vikram’s foot? Did that speck of dirt come off his heel? This mat and suddenly the house was not so lifeless, pulsing faintly, ever so slightly charged with their presence. I could almost hear them, turning the page of a book and shifting softly on a rattan armchair, crunching a roasted cashew nut and dropping another on the floor, slipping an ice cube into a glass and placing the tongs back on the table.
 
I walked into the hollow that had been my father’s office. There was no large desk heaving with piles of legal briefs, those blue and beige folders frayed at the edges, sometimes tied up with a piece of thin ribbon. The wooden shelves that stretched from the floor to the ceiling on two walls were bare, the top ones no longer warped by the weight of too many books. No antique maps of Sri Lanka hung above the desk. One of these maps, from the sixteenth century, showed the island as a rectilinear pentagon, not unlike a small child’s lopsided drawing of a house, and in the middle, along with a few mountains and rivers, the cartographer had etched a colorful elephant with ornate anklets on all its feet, perhaps to compensate for the lack of geographical detail.
 
As I stood in the dark of that room, fragments of our last days here kept flaring up, unbidden. Malli tying clusters of balloons on the frangipani trees in the back garden because we were having friends to dinner, and what’s a party without balloons. My mother teaching Vikram to play “Silent Night” on the piano, and his deliciously dimpled smile as he changes the chords and presses hard on the pedal, making the tune unrecognizable. Steve wearing that burnt--orange shirt the night we had the party, the shirt I’d bought him only that day, a tad more flamboyant than his usual choice. All of this now sharply in focus just by being within these walls, my vapor--filmed mind clearing for a while. I looked out the window and saw the lime tree in the front garden. The tangy smell of those lime leaves, when they are torn into small pieces, I know that so well. Familiar insect noises filled the outside, crickets rubbing wings together, cicadas vibrating tiny abdominal membranes. A few moments of quiescence. Home.
 
Upstairs in our bedroom, the two double beds, no sheets or pillows, naked. The wardrobe empty, I traced inside the shelves with my fingers, and there was no dust. In the corner of a drawer, I found some seashells, small cowries that Malli and I gathered on the beach, feeling their pearly smoothness under our thumbs. He called them “favorites,” both his and mine. Drifting in and out of the rooms in a daze, I looked into the small shrine room at the top of the stairs. On the floor, under the Buddha and Ganesh statues, was a set of Vikram’s cricket stumps, the tallest ones he had, Steve would tap them into the ground with his bat in the middle of the athletics track of the Sports Ministry playing fields every evening. I picked up one of the stumps, staring at its pointed end that was darkened with soil, the wetness of the earth still clinging to the wood, almost. I took it to our bedroom. I struck at the bed. I stabbed the mattress with the muddied pointed end, over and over, harder and harder, until a tear appeared, and again to make the hole deeper and again to make another gash and again to join up all the gashes. The four of us, we slept here in all our innocence. That’ll teach us.
 
Dust, rubble, shards of glass. This was the hotel. It had been flattened. There were no walls standing, it was as though they’d been sliced off the floors. Only those clay--tiled floors remained, large footprints of rooms, thin corridors stretching out in all directions. Fallen trees were everywhere, the surrounding forest had flown apart. As if there’d been a wildfire, all the trees were charred. A signboard fallen in the dirt said yala safari beach hotel. I stumbled about this shattered landscape.
 
I stubbed my toe on this ruin.
 
This was my first trip back to Yala. I went with Steve’s father, Peter, and his sister Jane. On the two-hundred-mile drive from Colombo, we had to stop often, so I could vomit.
 
The wind was fierce that day we went back, it flung sand into our faces. A strangely quiet wind, though, bereft of the rustling and shaking of trees. It was midday, and no shelter from the seething sun. The sea eagles that had thrilled Vik, they were still there. Bold in this desolation, they sailed low, sudden shadows striking the bare ground. Eagles without Vik. I didn’t look up.
 
I couldn’t make this real. This wasteland. What has this got to do with me? I thought. This was where I was last with my family? Our wine chilled in a bucket here on Christmas Eve? I couldn’t believe any of it, for I couldn’t grasp their extinction.
 
I had learned some facts by now, so I recited them in my head. The wave was more than thirty feet high here. It moved through the land at twenty--five miles an hour. It charged inland for more than two miles, then went back into the ocean. All that I saw around me had been submerged. I told myself this over and over. Understanding nothing.
 
I knew the geography of this hotel so well—-but now I was directionless. Where do I go? What did I come here to see? Then I remembered the rock. There was a large rock here on the bank of the lagoon that is to the side of the hotel. A black, peaceful rock that we’d often sit on at dusk. Every year we took photos of the boys on that rock. I had to search awhile before I saw it now, it wasn’t where it used to be. It was in the middle of the lagoon. Had it moved, or had the lagoon expanded? I couldn’t tell. But with that rock I found my bearings. These concrete pillars held up the dining room. Over there, behind that mound of crushed concrete, was the pool. The rooms we stayed in were at the farthest end, near to the jungle, and at night we heard wild boar steal out of the scrub.
 
I showed Steve’s father and sister those rooms. They stared silently at the floor of the bathroom, where Steve was when I saw the wave. I retraced the path we took as we ran from the water. I showed them the driveway where we climbed into the jeep. We stood on that gravel awhile. I kicked up red dust.
 
I noticed objects wedged in the top branches of a large acacia, one of the few trees still upright. An air--conditioning unit, a pink mosquito net, the number plate of a car. And in the rubble on the ground, I could see a Japanese magazine now dried to a curl, a room--service menu, a broken wineglass, a black high--heeled shoe. A child’s red underpants. My eyes rushed past this. I didn’t want to find anything that was ours.
 
I walked down to the ocean alone. It was June, when the surf here is wild. I stared. These waves, this close. I stood there taunting the sea, our killer. Come on then. Why don’t you rise now? Higher, higher. Swallow me up.
 
When I came back to my father--in--law, he was holding a sheet of paper, peering at it. He showed it to me. He told me he’d stood in that wind and spoken a few words into the air, to Steve and the boys. That’s when something fluttered by his foot. He took no notice. It was just a scrap of paper, mostly covered in sand, some old newspaper, he thought. With each gust of wind, it kept flapping. So he dug it out. It was a laminated page, A4 size. Could this be something of Steve’s? he asked.
 
I looked. And I looked. My blood jumped. For it was.
 
It was the back cover of a research report written by Steve and a colleague. A report on “using random assignment to evaluate employment programs,” published in London in 2003. The ISSN number was still clear on the bottom left. Except for a small tear in the middle, this page was intact. It had survived the wave? And the monsoon in the months after? And this relentless wind? It appeared right by Steve’s father’s foot? It rustled? Random assignment. I remembered the many studies that Steve had been working on, these two words absurd in this madness now. Had Steve been reading this on the toilet when I shouted to him? Was this one of the last things touched by his hands? I clasped the paper to my chest and sobbed. My father-in-law stood next to me.
 
“Cry all you want, sweetheart.”
 
After finding that page, I was no longer afraid of chancing upon our belongings amid this rubble. Now I wanted to discover more. I kept going back to Yala, obsessively, over the next months. I scavenged the debris of the hotel. I searched, dug about, scratched my arms on rusted metal. I pounced on fragments of plastic, did this come from one of our toys? Is this Malli’s sock? What I really wanted was to find Crazy Crow, the big glove puppet with unruly black feathers that we had given Malli for Christmas, the day before the wave. When he tore open the wrapping and saw it, how he’d lit up.
 
I followed the course of the wave inland, time and again. In a trance, I scrambled through the uprooted scrub. The jungle had been devoured by the water, vast tracts of it were now covered in bone--white sea sand that had been swept in by the wave. I ignored danger and walked far into the forest, there were wild animals—elephants, leopard, bear. I lied to my unsuspecting friends from London who sometimes came with me. “Are you sure this is safe?” “Yeah, course it is, come on.”
 
Nothing was normal here, and that I liked. Here, in this ravaged landscape, I didn’t have to shrink from everyday details that were no longer ours. The shop we bought hot bread from, a blue car, a basketball. My surroundings were as deformed as I was. I belonged here.
 
I kept returning over the next months and saw the jungle begin to revive. Fresh green shoots sneaked out from under crushed brick. New vines climbed around tilting pillars, and these ruins suddenly looked ancient, like some holy site, a monastery for forest monks, perhaps. Around our rooms a scattering of young ranawara bushes dripped yellow blossoms. And everywhere, on bare ground and between cracks in the floors, tiny pink and white flowers that flourish along the seashore forced their way up. Mini mal, or graveyard flowers, they are called. I resented this renewal. How dare you heal.
 
Still, I began to experience a new calm. In Colombo my chest cramped continuously, here that pain lessened. I lay on the warm floor of our hotel room as a slow moon scaled above the sea, and I could breathe. At the edge of this floor, there was a small bolt--hole, filled with sand. When I saw the wave coming toward us, I asked Vik to shut the back door. It was into this bolt--hole that he pulled down the lock. Now I traced its rim with my fingers. I cleaned out the sand.
 
We loved this wilderness. Now slowly it began pressing into me, enticing me to take notice, stirring me from my stupor, just a little. And here I found the nerve to remember. I’d walk on the beach following the footsteps of a solitary peacock, and allow in snatches of us. I could see Vik and Malli catching hermit crabs on this beach. They’d keep the crabs in a large blue basin that they’d landscaped with sand tunnels and ditches, then release them by the water’s edge at the end of the day. Now I could hear the two of them, their innocence twinkling in the late--evening light. “Have I been good, Mum, and will Santa bring me lots of presents?”
 
I had glimpses of those hours before the wave. Vik jumped on my bed. “Come give me cuddle,” I said. “A Boxing Day cuddle?” he asked, snuggling up. We were to check out of the hotel soon, my mother would have had her vanity case packed. I remembered our last night here, a star--sprawled sky. “Look, Dad, the sky has got chicken pox.” We were sitting outside on the sand, the air was still, from the mayila trees, like a marble skipping on stone, a nightjar called. A fucking nightjar? When I needed a vast pronouncement, of what was looming. The end of my world.
 
I never did find Crazy Crow. I stopped searching the day I found the shirt Vik wore on our last evening, Christmas night. It was a lime--green cotton shirt. I remembered him fussing that he didn’t want to wear it, it had long sleeves, which he didn’t like. Steve rolled up the sleeves for him. “There, that looks smart.” When I found the shirt, it was under a spiky bush, half--buried in sand. I pulled it out, not knowing what this piece of tattered yellowing fabric was. I dusted off the sand. Those parts of the shirt that had not been bleached by salt water and sun were still bright green. One of the sleeves was still rolled up.
 
My journeys to Yala became less frequent after I began to harass the Dutch family. By that December, as the first anniversary of the wave approached, I had this new fixation. Strangers had moved into our home in Colombo. A Dutch family. When I was first told the house had been rented to them, I raged at Rajiv for doing it. I was desperate. I screamed. I explained: the house, it anchors me to my children. It tells me they were real. I need to curl up inside it, now and again. But my brother could not comprehend any of this. Why would I want to crawl back into that torturous space? It was so empty of them now. And he didn’t live in Sri Lanka, and I was not in a state to manage it. He had no choice but to rent out the house.
 
But I smashed my head on the wooden frame of the bed after he told me this. Again and again I bit my arm.
 
I was spinning in a helpless rage. My boys have been flung out of their home. Other people are in our house, infesting it, erasing Vik and Mal. I want to sit in our garden. I want to pluck on a blade of grass that my boys pounded on. And I can’t? All these months with everyone coaxing me, you have to live, and now I can’t even do this?
 
On the night I learned about the Dutch family, I drove to our home. I went alone.
 
I know what I’ll do, I thought. I will smash the car into the front wall. It will burst into flames. I will die. That will be fitting. Killing myself in our home. I’ll do it with an explosion. I’ll do it in style.
 
This was my first time driving alone since the wave. It was dusk, when traffic is cranky on Colombo roads. I tore through, steering with one hand, overtaking on the wrong side. I played one of Steve’s old The Smiths CDs. My friends from En-gland had brought me a selection of our music, but I couldn’t bear to listen to most of it. I did play The Smiths, though. Hearing them didn’t feel so raw, they were not from our immediate life. It was when we were undergraduates in Cambridge that Steve was possessed by them. Now, in the car, I played “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” repeatedly. “And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine.” Ah, this is noble. I swung the car into our street.
 
When I approached the house, my foot wouldn’t slam on the accelerator pedal as I’d planned. I slowed down just as I did when we lived here. Just as then, I got to the front gates and stopped. The gates were closed. We always kept them ajar at this time, and our security guard would open them when I pulled up. He’d wake from his nap for the glare of the headlights and rush out in disarray, tripping over his open sandals, buttoning his shirt. None of that now. The gates stayed shut.
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Sonali Deraniyagala, Author of Wave

When and why did you decide to write Wave? Can you talk about the process of writing the book?

I didn't set out to write a book. I began writing almost accidentally, a couple of years after the tsunami. It was my therapist, Mark Epstein, who suggested that I write and persuaded me to keep writing. Of course I protested—rather childishly—that it was a silly idea. I wanted to die, or at least lie around in a stupor, not write. But the writing drew me in. It became survival, my reason to live.

At first I wrote for myself, as a way of finding out what happened to me when I was in that wave. The experience of being in it was so strange and bewildering, and I wrote a few pages to explore and unravel my memory of it. The details that came to me were so startling—I remembered seeing a flock of storks flying above me when I was in the chaos of the water, and for a moment forgetting what was happening to me because I was trying to figure out what types of storks they were. Then over time, more importantly, I wrote to recapture (again mostly for myself) our life before the wave.

Nothing was real to me in those early years after the wave—not the wave, not my life before it, not my family. The fact that my entire life vanished in an instant in that water was what made it all so unreal, I thought. "Did they really ever exist?" I would wonder about my children. Then as I wrote, my family began to emerge as real; I rediscovered them. And I was able to allow myself to feel them and to reenter our life, the blissful, everyday moments of it. This was addictive and kept me writing. Writing turned out to be a way of being with my family.

You manage to bring your boys, your husband, and your parents so beautifully to life in these pages through the smallest details you share about them—their passions and habits, their favorite expressions, meals, books, music. Yet it is exactly these sorts of details you spent many years hiding from. You talk very movingly about your fear of details and your worry that the more you remember the more inconsolable you will be. When did that feeling start to shift?

For a long while after the wave I did want to wipe all details of them from my mind. I thought I could not possibly tolerate remembering. But as I began to expose myself to our life—by going back to our home in London, to my parents home in Colombo, and so on—I could feel that my memories brought me joy. An agonizing joy, sometimes. By writing, I was able to tolerate remembering. It also gave me a secondary purpose, as I focused on finding the words for all I remembered.

My fear of detail never really went away, though. I am still wary. When I was writing, I could not, at any one time, hold the whole truth of my loss. At first I wrote only about my children, allowing in memories of them mainly. Then, I looked more at Steve. He and I knew each other since we were eighteen, and his thoughts and his expressions and his humor were always with me, and I think writing about him also allowed me to channel his voice. Later, I began to bring my parents close—the warmth and bustle of their home, the endless gossip and laughter of my mother and her sisters, quiet conversations with my father in the calm of his library, the smell of his cigars.

You are incredibly frank about your grief, especially in those first months after the tsunami—from turning to drugs and alcohol, to thoughts of suicide, to your going mad with grief and tormenting the family who eventually moved into your parents home. How difficult is it to share such raw emotions?

I found it much easier to describe the rampaging grief of those early months than to explore the deliciously happy, joyous moments of our life, like remembering my five-year- old son licking cake mix from a wooden spoon while wearing his pink tutu.

When I was writing about tormenting that poor family who rented my parents home, I found myself sometimes wishing I could go back to that time and do it again. Drunkenly bashing on their gate in the wee hours, in that period of being and acting out of control, was in many ways easier than feeling my loss more fully, as I try to do now.

You go back to Yala regularly. What have those visits meant to you over the years?

At first I went back to try make sense of the wave. It really happened? The sea came for us? Here ? When I go back now, I see how the ruins of the hotel where we stayed are being overtaken by the surrounding jungle. The inexorable force of nature is still declaring itself there, and this makes me feel very connected to my family.

It was an act of nature that took the lives of your husband, sons, and parents. And yet, throughout the book you seem to find some solace in nature, to feel a particular closeness to your memories brought on by its presence. Why do you think that is?

Yes, I've sought out nature, vast and wild places in particular, in these past years. For one thing, the wildness of landscapes like the unearthly Swedish sub-Arctic matched my grief, I think, and I found relief in that. Also, in the vastness of some places like the Montana Rockies, I could make room for myself to get closer to the truth of what happened. My defenses dropped away. This allowed me not only to hold the reality of my loss, but also to bring back the delight and joy of my family.

Your sense of shame, that you were cursed, is a recurring emotion throughout Wave, that somehow you were responsible for bringing harm to your family, for not protecting them. Have you reached a place where you don't in some way hold yourself responsible for what happened?

Holding myself responsible is a much shallower emotion, I think, than feeling cursed and doomed. Now I can reason with myself and know that I was not responsible. But the shame of being cursed and being tainted by this enormous loss, I know is irrational, but it's deeper and persists. I do find it mysterious, it is probably partly cultural. Growing up in Sri Lanka, I'd often hear of people being referred to as moosala, "ill-fated," in a way that can rub off on others.

At one point you write: "I cringe to be bereft in a way that cannot be imagined." Was writing this book in some ways your attempt to make what happened to you something that can indeed be imagined?

I do still cringe. But, from the reactions to my book from those who have experienced loss, I am also learning that every loss is unimaginable.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Wave?
That love never dies.

Books can have the power to be enormously healing. This will be one of them. Are there books that have been especially meaningful to you throughout your life?

After the wave I was terrified of books because I was terrified of everything from my "old life." Then about a year later I began reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, and I clung to that book at terrible times. While the book is about many types of loss, it was the nature writing and the descriptions of that mighty mountainous landscape that worked for me. It really soothed me. Also, I'd been to Nepal on work many times, and Steve and the kids came along once, too. When I tried to show Vikram, our older son, a view of Everest from the plane, he kept asking Steve if they could (again) go see the outside of the Arsenal football stadium when we got home! Reading The Snow Leopard brought back that memory, and could I peek at it, then distract myself with the book.

Who have you discovered lately?

I read After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld recently and loved it. A mesmerizing book about the trauma of war.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 28 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(15)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    The tsunami of 2004 in Asia was something no one was expecting a

    The tsunami of 2004 in Asia was something no one was expecting and a disaster no one will forget. I cannot imagine loosing my family
    and being the only surviver. This story was not very organized. Deraniyagala thoughts were all over the place. I can see where Deranlyagla
    was just writing in  journal to express her feelings but before publishing this memoir the editor of the book should have organized the thoughts
    a little bit better. 

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 12, 2013

    How someone could survive such a tragedy and put it into words i

    How someone could survive such a tragedy and put it into words is unimaginable. 

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2013

    So disappointing!

    I could not wait to read this book! The free sample had me hooked, however after the tsunami came through in this book, the rest of the writing was lackluster at best. Basically we took the looong journey through her grief with her. The writing was bland and to be honest i was so bored i did not eveb finish the book, stopping instead on page 116.
    I feel for the author having gone through such a devastating event and loss. I hope she is able to heal a little more each and every day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, it jyst was not a book that worked for me.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2013

    Amazing

    Im honestly schocked about how well shes recounted the events before during and after the tsunami. A very good read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2013

    Breathtaking

    I found Sonali's story breathtaking ib its honesty about the difficulty of being left behind. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    Devastating

    This is ome of the most devastating and important books I have read in ages. Even prompted me to post a review, my first. The writing is exceptional and transports the reader into the pages. You are there with her as she rushes from the wave, you cringe as she races past her parents door without warning them of the danger ahead, there as she clings for life then desperately wanrs no part of it. It's incredibly sad and incredibly remarkable. The author describes every part of her life after losing her precious family. Her strength is astonishing and no doubt stems from the spirit of her family which she carefully and completely wraps herself in.
    Reminicent if Didion but entirely unique and special and raw.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 4, 2013

    This book was somewhat interesting but I did not expect it to be

    This book was somewhat interesting but I did not expect it to be so much a study of the author's grief. I had hoped that it would be more focused on the disaster. And, I agree with the reviewer who said that the author's writing was a bit disorganized. As people traverse tragedy and loss, they are often encouraged to write a journal. Usually those journals are a path to recovery but they remain private. This would have been good therapy but I'm not sure it was a potentially great book.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2014

    Terrible

    The only reason why i gave this book a star is because of the first 20 pages or so. After the wave hit, it was an endless rant id depression... which literally, not figuratively, put me to sleep. I had to completely force myself to read this.book for it was for a project and i didnt have time to start a new one. Do not reccomend at all.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    Heartbreaking

    Heartbreaking but liked it. Seemed a bit repetitive though.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

     Not what you expect but better! Reading the back cover of Wave

     Not what you expect but better!
    Reading the back cover of Wave you can clearly tell what it's about. It's a memoir from a survivor of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. You would expect it to be just that, a detailed account of what happened that day but as you read it you come to find out that there is so much more depth to her story. Sonali writes almost is a poetic way, explaining her emotions throughout the various situations she is put in. In the book she loses her entire family to the wave; her husband, her two sons, and her parents. You can tell throughout the story that she is going through many different emotions all at the same time. She keeps with a consistent theme of grief and the different stages she experiences. “..I lapse into thinking that nothing has changed, no one has died....The I have to remind myself. That life is over”  Some people would probably say that this seems disorganized and that here thinking was scattered but I think that it was actually written in that way in order to convey her exact thoughts to the audience. Although the book is rich in emotional testimony it is also full of adventure. You almost feel like you are there with her as the tsunami surges toward the hotel her and her family are vacationing at.”I’d never seen him like that before. A sudden look of terror....He saw something behind me that I couldn’t see, I didn't have time to turn around..” Sonali does an amazing job of telling it like is and at the same time not leaving an detail out of her story. I would recommend this book to pretty much anybody. Don’t expect it to be some happy fairy tale like the interpretation of the tsunami in hollywood;  but expect a rollercoaster ride that will take you into the mind of someone who has witnessed the horror of one of the most tragic events in modern history. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2014

    Osam gavin Osam gavin

    Cool

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2014

    JASON!!!!

    Fire res 4 is our new cabin!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2014

    This book is a raw and unflinching glimpse into the pain that So

    This book is a raw and unflinching glimpse into the pain that Sonali endured for right after and for many years after the devastation of losing her family.  She is a beautiful and gifted writer.  She made us all look at how we handle grief.  We must not hide from it.  We must face it head on if we are to overcome the pain and remember the good that was once our loved one.  She is truly an inspiration! 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    So beautifully sad

    This tale of disaster and a survivor's ensuing grief is a multi layered success. Each word is chosen with care, and the tiny things we all take for granted are magnified with every page. I love the writing style. Once she describes a tiny leaf found on some sporting equipment of her sons with such beauty I was truly moved. If you want a book that walks you through unspeakable emotion, the darkness and the coming of the light, this is wonderful. For those wanting a gratuitous telling of corpses and bodies get another book. And before you judge this woman who was in total shock for months after the wave, think that there are many ways to express grief. This book is a masreful retelling of the rare unspeakable sadness most of us would never be able to endure.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 16, 2013

    The author had a distaste for humanity to the point of being di

    The author had a distaste for humanity to the point of being disturbing. I had no empathy for her because she was cruel to the others who had also lost in this tragedy. She was about as useful as a hole in a boat to the other victims who were trying to be useful and help anyone until they found their loved ones.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    Id like for u to help mistclan

    We r at four winds all res. Go there and talk to midnightfang and co.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A Survivor's Story

    Deraniyagala (I so admire the reader of this book, who was able to easily roll that name off her tongue) went through a catastrophe of epic proportions (the tsunami), lost everything, and worked her way back to life and presumably good mental health over the next decade. Rarely do you get a firsthand glimpse into an experience such as this, and it is frightening. Disasters happen on a large scale pretty regularly, and personal losses also occur pretty regularly, but this woman experienced both at the same time. Even having read the book, I can't imagine the scope of her pain. She is a good writer, and brings the reader along with her through it all, with enough detail to make you feel what she felt, albeit to a much lesser degree. There were times that she didn't like herself very much, and I didn't like her very much during those times either. It is a story of one person's experience, it's a memorial to those she lost, and it's bare-naked grieving that most readers never have and hopefully never will go through.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    Bluejewel

    May i join said a blue grey shecat with black paws and white cupped ears. She even had a small saphire on her head. She padds up to leopardstar and asked may i be a warrior here?

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2013

    Hawkfyre

    Hello.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Leopardstar

    Leopardstar.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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