Thoughts: Wave, by Sonali Derinayagala

Calling this a book review feels wrong somehow, for how can one presume to "review" a book of someone else's grief? I could point out that Derinayagala favors commas where I feel that periods and sentence breaks would have improved the flow, or I could discuss how I expected Wave to be a story about a tsunami, not a personal story of loss. But none of those things really matter in the face of the raw emotion that Derinayagala pours out on every page of this short but impactful memoir.

Wave opens before the wave (the 2004 tsunami that struck Sri Lanka) had hit; Sonali Derinayagala, her parents, her husband, and her two young sons were vacationing from London over the holiday season. This brief, happy time stands in stark contrast to what follows: a few short, staccato chapters on Derinayagala's experience during the wave--leaping into a fleeing Jeep, losing track of her family members, latching onto a tree to avoid being swept out to sea--and the long, drawn-out accounts of what followed: looking for her family, only to eventually accept their deaths as inevitable; returning to her London home, where unused theater tickets awaited the family's return and sports equipment still carried the dirt of previous matches; visiting her childhood home, now cleared of her parents' belongings and rented to strangers.

Derinayagala thanks her therapist in her acknowledgements, along with so many others, for pushing her to recall her grief and therefore face it. The raw emotion of her memories cannot be overstated; Derinayagala does not shy away from any of her past actions, no matter how shameful they may seem in the light of day. Merely writing this all down may have functioned in the same therapeutic capacity; by publishing, and sharing, her story, Derinayagala has given us all the opportunity to face the fear of this grief--of losing our families, our loved ones, our sense of security in the world--through her experiences. Facing this dark side of our human nature and our capacity for grieving is not easy, but it brings to light the very human side of natural disasters in a way that no reader is likely to forget.


Wave | Sonali Derinayagala | Thorndike Press | August 2013 | Hardcover | 251 pages

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