Thursday, May 8, 2014

WAVE by Sonali Deraiyagala (non-fic)

Deraiyagala has written a sad, brave and honest book about the loss of those she loved the most in the world.  She bares the intense grief the loss caused her which makes this memoir so real and truthful, that the reader feels her pain and wonders how she could endure such unimaginable loss. 

In 2004, on the day after Christmas, a horrifying tsunami born in the Indian Ocean spread over a number of countries causing the deaths of approximately 250,000 people, a number the mind can hardly accept.  We saw the images on t.v. and the destruction that is still in evidence in some areas. 
Sonali with her husband, Steve, two young sons, Vic and Malli, and her parents, was on holiday in the Yala National Park, staying at a beach-front hotel.  Their day began normally enough, and then the nightmare began.  What had been a sunny warm morning, with preparations being made to go to the beach, in a matter of minutes turned violent with a wall of water roaring inland.  Sonali and Steve grabbed the children and ran with no time to check on the parents in another room.  They raced outdoors and jumped into a Jeep that was departing with other guests.  It wasn't long before the Jeep was upended, and Sonali lost consciousness.  When she came to, she was being swept along in the maelstrom, bleeding profusely, and the rest of her family nowhere in sight. 

Sonali was eventually rescued, and after a fruitless search and in a state of shock, she realizes that she is the only survivor in her family. She never saw her husband, children or parents again.  In stark detail Deraiyagala allows us into her world in the aftermath of this tragedy.  She is eventually taken to her aunt's home in Colombo, but there is no recovery for her there.  She descends into a hellish state of depression fed by alcohol, hatred and resentment of those who survived.  Some time goes by, and she finds her brother has leased her parents home to a Dutch family on holiday.  She harasses this family in numerous ways, again fueled by her intense grief.  She goes back to the site of the hotel with her father-in-law in the hope of finding some shred of evidence of their former life.  Miraculously her father-in-law picks up a paper that turn out to be part of a report Steve was working on.  Sonali and Steve were both successful economists.  They met at University in England, married and had their careers and a nice home in London.

It was two years before Sonali could bear to return to London and enter the home in which they had lived.  The description of her re-entry and intense sadness at seeing everything just as it was left on the day they departed for their holiday is difficult to read.  Eventually with support of friends and family, Deraiyagala is able to piece part of her life together and begin recovery.  Seven years after the tragedy, she found some relief in writing this account.  She now teaches at Columbia and lives in Manhattan.

"Wave" was chosen as one of the 10 best books of last year by the "New York Times."  It is an intense book, maybe not for everybody.  It is beautifully written and with such honesty that it is an experience to read it.  Why do we read of another's suffering?  Perhaps it is important to remind us of our blessings and help us to realize that life goes on in the face of tragedy, that people find strength to carry on, and that we help each other through these bad times.  Those we loved and lost are kept alive through the happy memories as the bad memories fade.

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