Tuesday, March 05, 2013

WAVE by Sonali Deraniyagala (2013) McClelland & Stewart, 228 pages

Harrowing, heartbreaking and healing, Sonali Deraniyagala unflinchingly recounts her journey since the tsunami that devastated her immediate family on December 26, 2004. That morning her husband Steve, their two young sons Vikram and Malli, and her parents were killed by the 30-foot wave that swallowed the lives of 200K others in Yala, Sri Lanka.

In prose that is spare and precise and a gasping gut-punch, Deraniyagala begins her narrative by admitting, “I thought nothing of it at first…It didn’t seem that remarkable. Or that alarming. It was only the white curl of a big wave.” Yet within moments that stretch into hours and days, the centre of her world falls apart and although she is the only one in her family who survives the disaster with cuts to her face and limbs and stones in her tangled hair she says her “mind could not sort anything out.” And, when a truck arrives at the hospital triage with a load of recovered corpses the “wild, wretched” shrieking crackles “into the numbness” in her head, “blasting the smallest stir of hope” in her heart.

How extraordinarily excruciating it must have been for Deraniyagala to live those personally apocalyptic moments and then relive them as she committed them to paper. What strikes me as most remarkable about WAVE is the generous way in which she so vibrantly recreates her sons and her husband and as in the fiction of Alice Munro and Carol Shields celebrates the ordinariness of daily life. And, in flashes we hear their voices, as when then-five-year-old Malli tells his older brother Vikram, “Don’t be scared. It’s good when it’s all really black. You can see your dreams better.”

Deraniyagala moves from plotting her own death to reconciling herself to yearning for what never will be. She assures that “their voices have doubled in strength now, not faded with time. Their chatter plays with my thoughts no end. And, I am sustained by this, it gives me spark.”

WAVE is simultaneously published today by McClelland & Stewart in Canada, Virago Books in the UK, and A.A.Knopf in the United States. Find the courage to read this extraordinary book. It’s the least you can do since Deraniyagala faced such darkness and summoned the grace and courage to not only write it, but to share such an ultimately redemptive story with the world.

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