Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave (review)


‘How can I sleep? If I sleep now I will forget. I will forget what happened. I will wake believing everything is fine. I will reach for Steve. I will wait for my boys. Then I will remember. And that will be too awful. That I must not risk.’
Is life always worth living? At any cost? I don’t think so. I think there are times when people should be allowed to choose to end life. So if you loose your husband, your two young sons and your parents in one day – is life worth living then?
For Sonali Deraniyagala, this is exactly what happened to her in 2004 when she was vacationing in Sri Lanka with her family and visiting her parents. On December 26th 2004, the whole world learned what a tsunami is. I for one had never heard of it before and I think my own reference for it was the movie The Abyss. But some got a much more cruel lesson than others. Whole families were wiped out. And that’s almost more kind than being left behind, the only survivor.
Sonali is with her family in a hotel room, talking to a friend. Just after the friend has commented on how Sonali is living the dream, she looks out the window and notices that there’s something wrong with the ocean. And then they run. They run so fast that they don’t even stop to warn Sonali’s parents in the hotel room next door. And still – it’s too late. The last thing Sonali remembers is sitting in a jeep and seeing her husband more afraid than ever before, frightened by something behind her, something she can’t see.
The next thing she knows, is a certainty that she’s going to die. But miraculously she survives and is found by a couple of men who drives her to a hospital. And then the waiting begins. Eventually she learns that she has lost her entire family.
And then the struggle begins. At first, it’s more of a struggle to be allowed to kill herself than anything else as well as a fight between memory and grief. How much can you allow yourself to grieve without drowning in it? For a long while, Sonali tries not to think too much about her family because it hurts too much but slowly, slowly, she is ready to start remembering them again. It takes almost two years before she goes back to their home in London for the first time…
This was a hard book to read. It feels like Sonali wrote these things down to help herself, like it was never meant to be published and because of this, it becomes a very raw honest book about how you survive the unthinkable. This also means that it’s not a book that leave you feeling uplifted or impressed by the human spirit’s ability to survive. Yes she does survive but even eight years later, she’s still grieving and still trying to figure out how to live on without her family. Without Steve who seems to be just a perfect fit for her and without the two boys.
Ah, those two boys. It’s heartbreaking to think about these boys. Vikram and Malli. Seven and five years old. The boys come to life again in this book when she share special family moments, details things the boys have said or done and what their special interests was. This book really feels like her way of keeping her family alive – and it is so hard to read.
Her unflinching honesty means that she also shows the darker sides of herself – and of grief. Like how she doesn’t grieve her parents for a long time because of what she calls a pecking order to her grief. There’s simply a limit to how many she can grieve over at one time. Or how she’s not sure if a boy in an ambulance is her son or not. Or how she starts drinking and taking pills to cope. Or how for months she harass the family who buys her parents’ home because she wants it back. But it’s all very understandable. When you loose someone, the places you lived and spent time with them suddenly becomes important. And this is also a memoir about these places. The house in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she grew up. The house in London where she and Steve made a home for their boys. The things they did there, the way they lived there.
I’ve been asking myself why I wanted to read this book, why anyone would read a book about another person’s suffering, why a mother would read about another mother loosing her children. And I’m not sure I can answer it. When I heard of this book, I was immediately drawn to it and knew I wanted to read it. But why? I think my best answer is that when people have suffered so much, the least you can do is read about it. I’m not sure this reason is quite valid and I know I don’t always live by it but this – and the more standard reason that literature allows you to experience things which you (hopefully in this case) never experience yourself – is the best reason I can give right now.
So is it worth living after loosing your entire family? I think the answer for Sonali Deraniyagala is probably yes. Not because she’s over her grief, far from it, but because she is keeping her family somewhat alive by living.
‘They are my world. How do I make them dead?’

First line: I thought nothing of it at first. The ocean looked a little closer to our hotel than usual. That was all.

  • Title: Wave
  • Author: Sonali Deraniyagala
  • Publisher:
  • Year: 2013
  • Pages: 240 pages
  • Source: Own collection – Kindle
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

4 thoughts on “Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave (review)

  1. Your question about why would anyone want to read a book like this, but still feeling draw to it is something I often think with books like this. I find myself pulled toward stories like these, I think because I think it’s important to understand as many people as possible, especially if their situations were as difficult as this one. I’m glad to hear it’s worth reading, since I’ve been wanting to for quite some time.

  2. Why would we read a book like this you ask? My answer would be that we read for many different reasons, and not always because we want to be entertained or to escape. Sometimes we read to learn, to understand or appreciate another point of view or another person’s perspective. It’s part of the enriching experience of reading.

  3. The question of having a good reason to end one’s life is a good one. I agree that there are circumstances when this might be the only solution for one’s pain (physically/emotionally/psychologically).

    I can’t imagine how I would feel if I lost my entire family in one day. I would be utterly devastated. I have many other people who care about me whom I could lean on, so I wouldn’t want to die, but I know I would hit rock bottom for awhile. I hope I never have to experience something like that.

  4. The pain of such a loss is unimaginable, devastating. It’s impossible to know how one would react in such a situation but I imagine whether or not you would choose to end your life depends on your beliefs. I do hope that writing the book helped.

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