On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake sent a tsunami wave onto the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Sonali Deraniyagala, a Sri Lankan woman living in England was vacationing with her family at a resort on the coast. As they tried to escape, the wave overtook their jeep. Sonali miraculously survived but her husband, two young sons, and parents did not.
Wave is Sonali's memoir of the tsunami, the days after, and her attempts to rebuild her life in the years to come. Honest, emotional, and horrifying, this is an engrossing account of her life and the difficulties of moving on from the most traumatic of experiences.
Given the nature of the book it feels weird saying that this is an incredible, must-read book. We all watched for days as the people of Southern Asia experienced the horrific force of nature and years later, it is something that has not escaped our minds. But as we watched from the safety and comfort of our homes, millions of people were left displaced, injured, missing, or dead.
While Deraniyagala starts her book with the day of the tsunami, she takes on a journey through her life, from her childhood in Sri Lanka, to her years at an English university where she met her husband, and to the joys of everyday life in London raising her family. As she does this, she goes back and forth with her life in the months afterward, recovering at a family home in Sri Lanka, and finally to her return home years later.
This is a haunting memoir that will stay with you long after the final page. What struck me most was Deraniyagala's brutal honesty, especially in the moment after the tsunami when she just wants a crying child separated from his parents to shut up and stop crying. Ordinarily, she would have compassion for the child, but in the moments of shock and confusion, we aren't capable of those responses. And that is not something to be ashamed of.
In the years that followed, Deraniyagala thought often of suicide, she lashed out at people around her, and it took years for her to return to the family home. To read about this behaviour gives the reader an understanding of what she was going through but really drives home that we as outside observers will never truly understand how terrifying and destructive this event was. It was very emotional for me to watch the footage of the tsunami on television and its aftermath but this book really pressed upon me what it was like for people. There were no warnings, people had only a few seconds from when they saw the wave coming to decide what to do. And even after the wave subsided, no one knew what caused it or if it would happen again or how soon. I can't wrap my head around what must have been running through their minds.
I thank Sonali Deraniyagala for sharing her story. With every page you can tell how difficult it was for her to put into words what she experienced. But this is a story for all of us, one that will teach you to hold your family members and loved ones closer, one that will teach you embrace the cliché of living each day to it's fullest because we just don't know what lies ahead of us.