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On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.

274 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Sonali Deraniyagala

3 books207 followers
Sonali Deraniyagala is a Sri Lankan memoirist and economist. Born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, she studied economics at Oxford and Cambridge. She married economist Stephen Lissenburgh.

While on vacation at Sri Lanka's Yala National Park in December 2004, she lost her two sons, her husband, and her parents in the Indian Ocean tsunami. The tsunami carried her two miles inland and she was able to survive by clinging to a tree branch.

Deraniyagala later relocated to New York where she became a visiting research scholar at Columbia University. Her 2013 memoir, Wave, recounts her experiences in the tsunami and the progression of her grief in the ensuing years. It was shortlisted for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,936 reviews
Profile Image for Greg.
36 reviews25 followers
January 19, 2013
Not a book for me. Wave is compelling, and extremely well written, but is just page after page of pain. The pain and depression are relentless, and I don't understand the appeal of going to a grey, formless universe of awfulness, and just sitting there while the anguish seeps into your skin. I have no children, and I can't imagine the masochism it would take to read this if I did.

But there's another thing. I'm at risk of being seen as a jerk, totally lacking in compassion, but here goes: There's a sense I get, not from Deraniyagala herself, but from readers of this and from the initial publicity, that her tragedy is more special, more tragic, more worthy of a memoir, because it was the result of a tsunami. If the same loss was experienced because of a car accident - something that happens to families every day - the resulting book wouldn't be nearly as, pardon the word, I use it only as a marketing term, "sexy". This gave me a feeling of unease as I read it.

But if you like misery lit, this is it for you. The apotheosis of grief, pain, and guilt. I've got to go read a Terry Pratchett to cheer myself up.
Profile Image for Carey J.
121 reviews9 followers
March 16, 2013
I find the negative reviews on here interesting. Many of them want resolution and hope. I think one of the messages of this memoir is that life goes on, but there is never really a resolution to that level of grief. Grief changes shape and evolves but it marches forward. One doesn't just pick herself up by her bootstraps and start a new life full of hope (perhaps some do, but not most). She has had enough time to process some of her pain, but in some ways, she still seems a bit confused and numb although she is allowing herself to dive into her memories---which perhaps make her feel more pain. The pain is allowing her to come out of her stupor.

Some say her memories are boring. Really the only reason I gave it a four out of five was for this reason; however, I also realize that living in her previous life is one of her coping mechanisms. I also realized I would likely do the same thing. Relive all those little moments I take for granted now--the universal theme Thorten Wilder explored in Our Town and countless other writers have weighed in on as well.

Some dislike how they didn't learn a lot about the tsunami or other survivors. This is a personal memoir. If you want that, find another book or Google it my friend.
4 reviews
April 16, 2013
It's hard to make a negative comment about this book without coming across as hard hearted, but here goes! I found it really hard to empathise with the author as she came across as cold, selfish and spoilt. It's impossible to know how one would react in a situation as tragic as this, but I would hope that most people wouldn't be as callous as she. Even before she knew her family was dead her attitude towards everyone around her was cruel, including a boy in tears asking her if his parents were dead and a family friend who asked for help at the hospital. There is very little in the book about the help and support she must have got from family and her friends. There is absolutely no acknowledgement of the thousands of others who suffered, and most of whom wouldn't have had the financial means to grieve as she did. I know this is a personal memoir and she has written honestly about how she felt. But there is no journey here, of personal growth or of anything that someone else who is grieving could read and take something away from. I expected her to reflect on the anger and resentment she felt towards others at the start and some sign that she grew from there. But I didn't see that. I think this book relies entirely on the event (a famous natural disaster) and doesn't offer readers anything more than a diary entry type record of what happened.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,923 reviews684 followers
April 5, 2023
It took me a long time to finish this book because there were times when I could not read the next page. The loss that Sonali suffered was so crushing that I often was at a loss to comprehend it - I had to take time to find a frame of reference before I could read further. After I finished I realized that she had found that still place in her heart where a wave of remembrance could gently soothe her as she bravely faced life without her loved ones. If you know someone facing a terminal illness I can think of no better gift you could give them than this book.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews100 followers
February 25, 2018
In December 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family were home for Christmas. When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, they all caught in the wave. She survived her parents, her husband, and their children.

Her book tells of her painful progress to recovery from her losses. Having personally gotten stuck a time or two in anger and denial with my own lesser losses, I appreciated her candor. I'm glad that I read the book.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
January 2, 2015
What is most striking to me about this memoir of the tsunami which hit Sri Lanka December 26, 2004 is the clarity with which Deraniyagala shares her sense of dislocation, devastation, and despair following the deaths of her entire family. She recalls rising water in words that take one’s breath, and then her stunned silence and blank lack of emotion when she describes the tsunami’s aftermath, when she alone of her family remained, covered in black mud and clinging to a tree.

What I never knew and was grateful to Deraniyagala for sharing, was how we humans react to the massive insult of a natural disaster. Aid workers must have come across this kind of shock in their work with victims of earthquakes and floods, but I never knew, had never experienced such a thing. I am in awe that Deraniyagala could relate her pain to us, despite what it must have cost her. She didn’t have to do it. I hope it helps.

The ravaging sense of guilt and crippling loss of self-worth as she scrabbled in the remains of her life felt lacerating. Her unflinching honesty in describing her loss of control and the pain of her survival when all others died, ripped from her arms, is excruciating. Her parents had also died in the wave, so apart from a brother and extended family, she had nothing to anchor her to her life as a mother, wife, and daughter.

It took six years before she could bear to remember the love she had for her children and her husband, and to tell us how they played, or what they liked to eat. She becomes joyous then, in recalling the boys at school, their favorite subjects, or how she met her husband and how they first traveled to Sri Lanka to stay in her parents’ house. The precision, clarity, and eloquence of her memory and her language honors them, and enshrines her love for them.

It is just as revealing to discover that people can actually find a way forward even in the face of such heart-rending grief. The grass grows back; the spirit renews. It seems impossible, but it is still true.

Deraniyagala reminds us that finding one’s way back to oneself through an overwhelming and lasting grief is not, in fact, to forget…but to remember. When Sonali remembers, and can speak the truth, she finds joy in the remembering, and in who she was with the people she loved. She can piece back together who she is by remembering who she was. The beauty of her memories, and the imaginings of her sons—Vikram would be fourteen!—makes me celebrate her bravery.

The reading of this memoir by Hannah Curtis is terrific. To say the material is difficult is understatement, but Curtis pulls it off.
Profile Image for Greta G.
337 reviews243 followers
December 27, 2017
Suddenly losing your parents, your husband and your two little sons, and barely surviving a devastating tsunami yourself.
A wave, that came for them on the morning of December, 26, 2004, when the children were playing with their Christmas presents in a hotel room in Yala, Sri Lanka.

"Such a puny life. Starved of their loveliness, I feel shrunken. Diminished and faded, without their sustenance, their beauty, their smiles. Nothing like how I was that day before the wave."

The grief is unfathomable, the pain outlandish.

"Each night I dreamed of fleeing, of running from something, some nights it was water, some nights it was churning mud, other nights I didn’t know what. In these dreams always one of them died. Then I’d wake to face my real nightmare."

She wrote this intimate, cathartic book for herself, not for us. And that is a good thing.

"There are red pen marks rising up a wall in our living room where Steve and I would measure the boys’ heights. I see those inexact squiggles and instantly lean right back into who I was. I know it was me who settled those squabbles about who had grown the most. I know it was me who scolded Malli for standing on tiptoe to be taller, his heels right up on those slightly peeling skirting boards on that wall. And yes, it was me who’d tell Vik that it was silly to drink half a pint of milk just before I measured him—you won’t get instantly taller, now will you? And without thinking I lightly kiss those red Biro marks just as I would the tops of their heads. Then I slump to the floor with my back against that wall."
Profile Image for Monica Casper.
Author 8 books12 followers
March 9, 2013
I study and teach trauma, and so I'm naturally drawn to trauma memoirs--a genre I know well. I'm also a mom and daughter, and this story of grief and colossal loss drew me in from the first page. Unimaginable to lose one's children, husband, and parents in one massive event. Deraniyagala does an amazing job of capturing the confusion she felt post-catastrophe, the sense of not being in her life without her loved ones there to anchor her. Moreover, her self-destruction--drinking, suicidal thoughts--make perfect sense and seem quite rational given the circumstances.

Told over a period of years, in which she increasingly comes to a place of remembrance rather than shocked, raw grief, the book is beautifully written. There is real emotion here, but also craft. The early scenes in which her family is swept away in the wave and she clings to existence are breathtaking, literally. Later passages describing her children's clothes, toys, the empty house; the garden and the birds; the places she used to go with them: these are all heartbreaking.

Ultimately this is a story about how a life gets rebuilt when everything that made it a life--the people, the relationships, the activities--are gone. Deraniyagala has to piece herself back together, and she does so, slowly, painfully, and not always gracefully. I loved her honesty when she wondered why others were alive when she had lost so much; her concern that she was experiencing a hierarchy of grief by mourning her children and husband more than her parents. In her grief, she reevaluates the contours of self.

I did find myself tripping occasionally on the narrative, when Deraniyagala's class status inserted itself into the story. There were references to nannies, drivers, and personal security guards in Sri Lanka; there is much cross-continent travel, vacations on the coast, a life of at least some ease and social lubrication. These references to privilege in no way undercut the author's obvious and profound grief nor her lovely prose, but I did wonder (sociologically) about the other thousands upon thousands of victims of the tsunami, including those without homes in London, well-placed friends, economic resources, and the cushioning of class that, at least to some degree, mediates trauma and loss.

Profile Image for Kelli.
850 reviews395 followers
September 5, 2016
As an empath and a highly sensitive person, I made a very poor decision in opting to listen to this one. I have always stayed away from it expecting it to be impossibly heart-rending. I only made it halfway and I just can't continue. To think that her story is just one of so many. My heart hurts!
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,653 followers
January 6, 2015
This is a powerful story about a woman who lost her husband, children and parents in the 2004 tsunami. Sonali and her family were vacationing in Sri Lanka when the wave hit, and her world fell apart. Sonali managed to survive by clinging to a tree branch, but the rest of her family was killed.

"Wave" is a grief memoir, with Sonali trying to adjust to a new life of being alone. She goes through a desperate period of wanting to kill herself; she drinks too much alcohol and barely leaves her room.

Sonali obsesses over the memories of her husband and children -- she doesn't want to forget anything. Her way of adapting is to keep them alive in her mind: "I can only recover myself when I keep them near. If I distance myself from them, and their absence, I am fractured. I am left feeling I’ve blundered into a stranger’s life."

The writing is beautiful and haunting, and it helped to personalize the tragedy. This isn't the kind of memoir in which the reader feels a triumph at the end, finding comfort because someone has survived and moved on -- but just relief that Sonali survived at all.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
July 10, 2016
The author was vacationing with her family at a national park on the southeast coast of her native Sri Lanka in December 2004 when the Boxing Day tsunami hit, killing her parents, husband, and two sons. Job-like, Deraniyagala gives shape to her grief and lovingly remembers a family life now gone forever as she tours her childhood home in Colombo and her London house. It’s not until over six years later that she feels “I can rest … with the impossible truth of my loss, which I have to compress often and misshape, just so I can bear it—so I can cook or teach or floss my teeth.” This is a wonderful tribute to everyone she lost. Her husband and sons, especially, come through clearly as individuals you feel that you know. Although it’s not a focus of the memoir, Sri Lanka’s natural beauty and food culture struck me – this would be an appealing place to visit.
Profile Image for Carol.
829 reviews481 followers
April 18, 2014
When natural disaster strikes we read the papers and watch the news coverage with laden hearts. Our minds have trouble comprehending the devastation, the loss of life, the emotional shock of these horrific events. Unless local or personal, all too quickly my life moves on, forgetting the ongoing grief, destruction and loss that continues to plague these people.

What compelled me to read Sonali Deraniyagala's Wave? Why would I choose to read this personal, gut wrenching account? Sonali Deraniyagala survived the Sri Lanka Tsunami in December, 2004. She survived but her husband, Steve, and her sons, Vikram and Malli, and her parents, did not. I wanted to comprehend in some small way, how someone survives something like this and is brave enough to share her story.

Wave was published in 2013. This gap between the tsunami to publication makes sense when you read Deraniyagala's story. Deraniyagala takes us back to December 26, 2004 and with vivid imagery relates what she remembers of the day. She and her family are readying to leave the Yala, a cherished family vacation spot and beautiful National Park located on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Her friend Orlantha is standing in Sonali's hotel doorway chatting when she sees the wave. "Oh my God, the sea's coming in." Sonali didn't find this remarkable, or even alarming. It was just the curl of a wave. "But you couldn't usually see breaking waves from our room". Within minutes, it became apparent that this was not normal. Without conscious thought or understanding Sonali and her husband knew they must get the boys and get out. They scoop them up and flee so quickly that Sonali does not take time to warn her parents in the room next door.

This first chapter is brutal as we are privy to Sonali's thoughts as she is churned in the waters of the tsunami. We feel her confusion, turmoil, disbelief, the fear of what is happening. Fleeting thoughts of her children as she tumbles through brown water Vik and Malli, I thought again. I can't let myself die here in whatever this is, My boys." Miraculously there is a branch hanging over the water and Sonali is able to grab this small piece of tree that proves to be her survival. She's on the ground, disoriented, battered, covered in mud. Men find her and take her to a the national park's museum building where she sits on a bench. She cannot focus, she cannot understand what has happened to her. Where is her family? She does not dare to speak, to acknowledge anyone or anything. The next day she goes to the hospital and it is here that she knows she must face the possibility that her family is dead. But she cannot. If she doesn't talk, if she doesn't see the bodies, if she can hide, it might still not be true.

The balance of the book is the account of the ensuing years. Life does not just go on. Her life is filled with despair and suicidal thoughts. More than six years go by before Sonali can bear to remember her family and take heart in the joys of their lives.

Sonali Deraniyagala has written a heart rending memoir, hopefully as much of a way through grief for her as a chronicle for us. It reminds me yet again of the power of love and family and the fragility of life.
Profile Image for Jennifer O'Connell.
38 reviews73 followers
May 22, 2013
I read this in four hours straight tonight but I know it will stay with me for a very, very long time. It is piercing, raw, sparsely written and without doubt the saddest story I have ever encountered: the memoir of Sonali Deraniyagala who lost her two young sons, her husband and both her parents in the St Stephen's Day tsunami of 2004.

Don't read it expecting closure or redemption, because - of course - there can be none. Nor is it an account of the tsunami or the hundreds of thousands of others who lost their lives and families that day. But as a simple, searing portrait of grief, and the slow process of reassembly of a life which has had its core ripped out, it is the most moving thing I have read.
Profile Image for Caroline .
418 reviews572 followers
December 22, 2021

(Full disclosure: book abandoned at page 103 [out of 228 pages].)

Memoirs are the most intimate of stories and likely the ones the author is most personally invested in. The problem with Wave is that it’s intimate to the point of reading like the author’s most private journal. Wave is an homage to Deraniyagala’s two sons, husband, and parents, who all perished in the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit on December 26, 2004. The author is thoroughly gutted afterward and spares no details in describing the days and months that follow. Her raw honesty is especially admirable when one considers that she often portrayed herself in a less-than-flattering light; Deraniyagala descended into a very dark place.

There’s a cathartic quality to Deraniyagala’s writing in the sense that each random memory melts into the next, as if she’d been trying to set in writing as much as she could before forgetting. This is a problem. The writing is meandering and scattered and seems to have no point, reinforced by some haphazard punctuation. All the while it’s hard not to feel like a snoop in Deraniyagala’s journal--or an interloper in a mind crushed by grief and hopelessness. Whether publishing Wave was a smart move, or even made sense, is debatable.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
April 16, 2013
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is one of the saddest, most moving books and is demonstrative of just how incredibly resilient the human spirit can be. On December 26, 2004, a tsunami struck the southern coast of Sri Lanka. That morning, which started out as a typical 'day after Christmas' morning for Ms. Deraniyagala, her husband Steve, her two young sons and her parents... turned into an unbelievable nightmare from which she is still trying to make sense of to this day. Ms. Deraniyagala (originally from this area), took her husband and children to spend Christmas with her parents every year in Sri Lanka. The 2004 Christmas was the one which ended her life as she had known it.

Ms. Deraniyagala's memoir is a difficult, heartbreaking and gut wrenching one to read. It is difficult for me to even put into words how I felt reading her expression of her grief and loss. She writes of the shock she initially felt in such a way that I felt as if I had been right there with her.... her mind in a state of shock and not truly comprehending what had happened. One minute, she and her family were in their hotel room laughing and talking and the next minute they were inundated by the humungous wave which ended up separating her family from her.. it was the last time she ever saw them.

Ms. Deraniyagala, through her very honest and very eloquent words, took me with her through the subsequent months and years and described just how painful the process had been and continues to be, grieving for her family. She talks about spending months in bed, the curtains drawn so that her room remained in darkness and separated from the outside world... asking herself over and over the question that there is just no answer to.. why?Why did this happen to her family... her parents, her husband and her two young sons?That question led to the next painful questions.... why did she alone survive? What right did she have to live when her entire family did not? She describes the excessive drinking she engaged in to self-medicate .. she describes begging for some relief.. which she felt would be her own death so that she might be reunited with her sons.

As the years went by, Ms. Deraniyagala slowly discovered that she no longer wished to avoid the people, places and things which reminded her of what she had lost. Ever so slowly, she discovered that by remembering... how she met her husband while they were students at Cambridge; how her oldest son loved soccer;and her youngest son loved to push a baby carriage and play 'dad'... she could feel a connection to all she had lost. Reading about her return to their home in England... discovering that it appeared as if they had just stepped out and would return soon... walking into her children's closets and still being able to smell their scents... these were excruciating details to read. I could feel all of the anguish she had experienced. It was painful and yet it also eased her pain and loneliness at the same time. She writes... "But I have learned that I can only recover myself when I keep them near. If I distance myself from them and their absence, I am fractured. I am left feeling I've blundered into a stranger's life."

Years have gone by since this tragedy occurred and Ms. Deraniyagala is now living in New York. She writes about realizing that her oldest son would now be fifteen and she pictures what her family may have been like now.Although it is still painful, she seems to have found some peace... perhaps not really acceptance... but peace. She writes... " I want them as they would be now. I want to be in our life. Seven years in it is distilled, my loss. For I am not whirling anymore. I am no longer cradled by shock.... Now I sit in this garden in New York, and I hear them, jubilant, gleeful, on our lawn."

As horrifying as this story was for me to read, it was also one of the most moving and beautiful tributes by a woman(a daughter, a wife, a mother), to her family. Ms. Deraniyagala's writing was so eloquent in describing her emotions.. her shock and grief,but also her loneliness and the realization of the gratitude she felt for the life she had shared with her loved ones. I could not help but be filled with respect and admiration for her. Although this story was so difficult and sad, I also took away from it a reminder of the appreciation I have for my own life with my family. If for no other reason than to realize a new sense of gratitude and appreciation for your life and the people in it, you should read this book.
Profile Image for Claudia Putnam.
Author 5 books125 followers
August 27, 2014
It's a little sad when a book that clearly took a long time to write, and to be able to write, takes only a few hours to read. I charged through this last night; could not put it down, as heavy as the material is.

Most basic response: ANGER at the negative or judgmental reviews this book has received. While Wave has received a huge positive response as well, I say SHAME ON those who feel there should be some kind of happy ending to this. I think of Barbara Ehrenreich's study Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. What a shallow culture we have now.

What this is: ONE woman's self-portrait while buried in extraordinary grief. Some have asked, well, is there really any difference between losing your family in a car accident, or losing them in a natural disaster? (Deraniyagala lost both children, her husband, and her parents to the 2004 post-Christmas tsunami that claimed 227,898 lives). Well, yeah. If that's not clear from the way she describes the wave and its aftermath, I don't know what to tell you. A memoir about dealing with the grief of a family wipe-out after some more mundane accident would also be interesting, but this story recounts something so overwhelming and world-breaking that it's worth its own account.

What this book asks of us: to stay present through someone else's unbearable pain while she tries to speak of it. That a lot of people are unable to do this is evidenced not only in the reaction to this memoir, but in what any bereaved parent will tell you about the comments people make after the death of a child: "at least you have your other kids," "you can always have more," "at least they weren't very old, you weren't too attached yet," "at least they were grown up," "time will heal," "god doesn't give us more than we can bear," "everything happens for a reason," "you should be over it by now," blah blah. If you've ever said any of these things to someone grieving, never do it again.

I'm sure most bereaved parents or widow/ers are glad to have this book. It's what we go through, writ large, and most people who go through an experience that makes you, as Deraniyagala notes, a statistical outlier, are glad for any validation. I wrote to Russell Banks to thank him after The Sweet Hereafter came out. One of his characters had already survived Vietnam, had become a pillar of the community, employing and helping rehab many other vets, had survived his wife's death to cancer, and now, in a school bus accident has lost both of his children. The novel follows different characters with different responses to the catastrophe, and this guy's collapse--he becomes a drunk and a womanizer--angered some readers. My mother said: I KNOW that grief is unendurable. So I want to read stories that are LESS real about it. I disagreed. Even if I didn't collapse as completely after the death of my son, I FELT as if I did. I WANTED to. Banks told the truth, through this character, of what this kind of loss FEELS like, even if you somehow keep coping, keep living, keep going to work. "It must be like having someone cut out a piece of your heart and then say, you can't have it back, ever," one friend said. But it's not even like that. It's like every single one of your cells has had something essential extracted from it, and from there on, they will replicate in a warped fashion. You will never be whole, nothing inside you will ever be whole again.

Psychologist Stephen Stosny writes of grief that "recovery" mainly means that eventually you can remember your loved ones with pleasure instead of pain. It takes as long as it takes (and most people think at least 5 years after a loss as devastating as a child; in this case it was her whole family, and it's hard to imagine how you even go about the work of grieving this. You think of one, and then you have to remember that all the others are lost, too. You don't even have your husband or your parents, with their shared memories of the deceased, to console you. How can it ever end?).

And yet, it's clear that Deraniyagala does make "progress." For some readers this isn't clear, and I can't understand why it's not. At first she can't think of the lost ones at all. She can't admit that this has happened. Nothing matters, least of all returning to her professional life. What for? She doesn't even care about her own physical injuries from the tsunami, because she should be dead. What's a cut, a bruise? Many of these? She can't accept people renting her parents' home, she doesn't even return to her own home for a very long time. By the end, though, she's not only able to take joy in her memories, but to describe her family to us so vividly we feel we know them, too.

One reader said s/he didn't shed a tear through this. Well, I did. Especially when she described the incredible feelings of guilt surviving parents feel. No matter how overwhelming the wave, she should have held onto her kids. No matter her state of shock, she should have looked for them. She should have identified the bodies. But she could not because that is what would make it real. And in the final analysis, she feels she should not have survived: her survival is a betrayal.

Any bereaved parent will understand this. It doesn't matter how impossible the task, where you were, what you believed or could not have known. A parent should protect her child. You can't escape this guilt, whether it's rational or not. It's in your cells, those cells that will be deformed forever. I even think the death of a child will reverberate spiritually into any afterlife. Even if you're somehow reunited, that pain of separation won't be repaired. That's what I think.

Another thing this book does spectacularly well: describe shock. Enduring shock. It's a wave, it hits hard, it erases all landmarks.

Some have also actually judged this woman for some of her behaviors when she was out of her mind with shock and disbelief. Fuck. Them. Whether or not any of us would behave in the same way is a) not determinable from our relatively sheltered perspective and b) irrelevant. Again, she is describing the way those who have suffered severe loss FEEL. I can see WANTING to do all these things. I remember another woman who had a due date near mine. She and her husband were TERRIBLE parents, I thought. Their older son was a spoiled brat. And yet, her baby was born healthy and mine had a fatal heart defect. Why? It's not that I wished a dead baby on them, but it's a mystery the mind cannot comprehend. You look at other children and you think, why are THEY so healthy? I loved Deraniyagala's honesty about this.

Most people who study resilience think we each have a set amount of resilience we're probably born with. Deraniyagala had led a very, very protected life, guided by the belief that talent, hard work, and good-person-ness should yield a good life. And she had nothing to disabuse her. Until. What kind of reference points can there be in such a circumstance? What's a good person after that? What kind of behavior is acceptable or at least understandable in such an obliterated landscape?

There's also been a criticism that this book, as a memoir, does not interrogate her experience enough. Well, okay. But I think this was probably all she could do for now. Just recount. For years she couldn't even speak of what had happened. It's a huge movement to be able to write this book (which is beautiful). And she does confess her dark behaviors, her deepest guilt. The things that are hardest to say are said.

That's enough for me. If Deranyigala wants to write another book in which she interrogates her experience, well, I'd read that, too. If she wants to write about other survivors in some other book, great. But again, fuck you to everyone who thinks she somehow owes more than what she's given.

I'm really tired of readers who think that because they get a window into something, they deserve the keys to the house.

Profile Image for Jill.
1,167 reviews1,641 followers
March 28, 2013
Early on in life, many of us were exposed to the story of Job – a blameless and upstanding man who is forced to endure an agony of human despair and desolation of spirit by meaningless tragedies that afflict him. The question raised is this: “Why does apparently senseless tragedy strike good people?”

There has never, to my mind, been a satisfactory answer to this question, which continues to exude a grim fascination for the very reason of its senselessness. In reading this tragic and haunting memoir, WAVE, I once again consider the effects of unimaginable loss.

Sonali Deraniyagla is a good person: the mother of two spirited young boys, the wife of an English-born economics professor, the daughter of two loving parents, and a successful economics professional in her own right. Then, in a heartbeat, it is all taken from her. While in Sri Lanka—the home of her birth – with her family, a tsunami occurs…and when the wave finally recedes, only Sonali remains alive.

The real waves that occur are of the psychic kind – waves of pain, despair, and memory. Sonali is unflinching in her description of these waves, which take her to the brink of insanity. “They are my world,” she writes. “How do I make them dead?”

In incomprehension, she describes the aftermaths of that pain, in excruciatingly accurate detail. Her body is so clenched that she has to keep all the taps running simply to void herself. And she tells us, almost matter-of-factly, “The first time I saw a photo of my boys, I was unprepared. I was searching the Internet for ways of killing myself, as I often did then, when one click let to another…” When a Dutch family innocently moves into her parents’ former home, Sonali harasses them. Told without artifice but not without artfulness, the reader is toppled by Sonali’s despair, much as she was toppled by the wave.

After undergoing numbness, grief, fear, shame and anguish, Sonali eventually discovers, “I can only recover myself when I keep them near. If I distance myself from them and their absence, I am fractured. I am left feeling I’ve blundered into a stranger’s life.” And as she gradually accepts that discovery, she slowly deliberately opens up the world she lost to the reader – the English husband at Cambridge, the birth of their two young sons, their charmed life that was seamlessly balanced between England and Sri Lanka. Sonali Deraniyagala does the impossible: she rebirths her family for the reader.

I have read other memoirs on loss, most notably Joan Didion’s excellent The Year of Living Dangerously. I have never read a memoir that is this achingly honest and raw and non-manipulative and real. I cannot imagine the toll it took to write this profoundly moving account but by doing so, Sonali does honor to her loved ones…and to herself.

Profile Image for Ina Cawl.
92 reviews287 followers
November 13, 2018
this book is one of the saddest book i ever reading my entire reading life
in short this short memoir describes our author guilt of survivor and how writing somehow helped her cope with her pain and sadness
Profile Image for Deb Stone.
52 reviews15 followers
January 21, 2014
The book opens with a line that depicts Deraniyagala’s not-knowing; the not-knowing so many shared before that day when we saw news accounts of the destruction caused by the tsunami. By page two, we know the inescapable horror from which the author attempts to flee.

We clasp hands with her and run. We leap with her in the jeep, feel the rising water, feel the weight of her children hanging by their armpits, feel the jeep overturn in the churning wave. We share her numb disbelief, too, and in the next chapters as she returns to a life devoid of husband, children, and parents, the author brings us along the path where she might have escaped the torment, if she could have died or gone mad.

As a reader, I have the luxury of escape that the author will never have. The capriciousness--the no-making-sense-of-it-ness--made the middle chapters of Wave a difficult read. In this section, the author lives in an unbearably muted world, and the hopelessness of it made me crave a lighter narrative touch. Her details are haunting. Her prose is well-executed, but in the middle section I wanted her sentences to be punctuated by plenty of white space.

Space to breath. Space to reconcile myself with loss.

I would have liked the author to break some paragraphs into bits. To let some of her sentences stand alone. To let the weight of awfulness spill around the edges of the prose like the wave, filling everything, carrying the reader along.

By the end of the book, I wanted to feel relief that she managed to return to their home. I wanted to feel ready (for her) to move on with a life that did not include the ones she had lost. I wanted to believe she could feel glee as she imagined them laughing. Instead, I felt as if I were still numb. As if the waters had never receded.
Although I wanted to, I never quite caught my breath. And maybe that is the point. After such loss it is almost unimaginable to go on.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
July 27, 2017
Sonali lost her entire family - two sons, her husband, and her parents - in the 12/26/04 tsunami. She wrote a book about it as part of her therapy and while I think the writing is excellent and the emotions are devastating, I do partly wonder why share this with the world? Particularly after seeing how Sherman Alexie's book tour about his memoir about his mother was so difficult, how could you handle interviews or appearances after people read about this experience? At the same time the story is more personal than watching CNN.

It's a quick read in some senses, as the book is short and the chapters are brief, but she is also able to show how grief lingers over time, how tiny objects carry the weight of painful memories, and how outsiders struggle to understand why a grieving person hasn't just moved on.

I didn't mean to read this so soon after All at Sea, but definitely found connections between the murderous ocean and the grieving family left behind. I originally started this book in rround 5 of book speed-dating in 2016, and went back to it because I'm trying to clear out books I've started.
Profile Image for Paul.
224 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2013
This is a hard book to review considering the content. Here you have someone opening up with brutal honesty about her feelings over losing her family in the tsunami. And I don't mean just her husband and two children, but her parents as well. We learn of her agonizing journey over the course of 7 years. I'm reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies, "Robocop", in which officer Murphy (now transformed into Robocop) is walking through his old home, touching things like picture frames, and being flooded with memories of his former life. That's exactly what you get for about 90% of this book. And that's precisely what makes this book so disappointing; that's all we hear about and it becomes tedious. What happens in the tsunami is pretty much finished by page 30 or so. If you are hoping to learn more about what all happened during the tsunami, this is not the book for you. This is 100% about the author and opening up about her grief. It's like a therapy session put to paper.

Is that necessarily bad? No. But I can't figure out why I never teared up once. It's not because I am insensitive. In fact, before concluding the book, I read an article about a boy who died of leukemia and it definitely had me tearing up. And that got me to wonder....would this not have been better as a long article? I certainly think so. If you are going to write a book, at least flesh out the characters. The author even seems to paint herself as a selfish, insensitive person towards the beginning of the book. She often times seems elitist and seems unappreciative of those trying to help her. How are you suppose to be sympathetic about this? And honestly, it took nearly the entire book to figure out what nationality her husband was. Maybe I missed something towards the beginning. And honestly, I have a hard time relating with someone who obviously lived a very privileged life attending Cambridge and globe trotting whenever she wants. But that's not as much as a problem as talk of foods, places, etc. that I knew very little about with not much explanation.

I thought the author might share experiences with others who lost loved ones in the tsunami, but that never happened. (It almost felt as if no one else did.) But as I said earlier, the book bogs down with flashback after flashback of stories about the family that aren't particularly interesting most of the time. There were a few good stories, especially towards the end when she opens up about the passions of her husband. And hearing other children ask about her own children was a bit sad, though again, should have tugged at the heart strings even more.

I've thought about this book for the last 2 days before I wrote anything. I don't think any review I give it will do it justice. It's just hard to put into words why I didn't like it. Something happened towards the beginning that pretty much corrupted the rest of the book, and I never figured out what. Let's just leave it as it's not for everybody. I read a review a few days ago that had similar comments to mine so I know I'm not alone.

I'll close in saying that losing your entire family under any circumstance is unthinkable to me. I know the author will never forget her family, and if that's what she is trying to convey, she succeeded.
Profile Image for Margaret.
278 reviews169 followers
December 12, 2019
Wave is Deraniyagala’s short and searing memoir focusing on the December 26, 2004 tsunami, which, when it hit Sri Lanka, killed the author’s parents, her husband, and their two young sons. In that family only the author survived. There’s no question that this is one of the most moving, painfully powerful, and gorgeously written memoirs I’ve read in many years. Instead, the question for me was why would I (or anyone) feel compelled to read such an upsetting documentation of sudden and unbearable loss.

The power and the beauty of the writing is certainly a part of the answer. But the pain is both unbearable and relentless. There is never a moment when Deraniyagala comes to see that these deaths are “for the best.” The book begins with the wave and the water and then moves chronologically as the author comes out of shock and into suicidal despair. She cannot be left alive alone; only the vigilance of her aunts and cousins keep her from killing herself. She tries to forget those she lost in order to numb herself. Memory is her enemy; it only tears at her heart again and again, reminding her of her treasured loved ones who vanished in a split second. Sleep does not comfort her because when she wakes, she once again must learn the horror of what has happened to her.

As the years pass, Deraniyagala allows herself more and more memories. After four years, she returns to her family’s London home, where everything is as they left it as they flew out for a family Christmas vacation in Sri Lanka. The mud is still on the boys’ shoes; their writings and valued possessions are there. There is an eyelash on her husband’s pillow. This part of the memoir is full of sunlight and details, details which burn because of the deaths of her family. Yet, at the same time, we begin to see the love in the family as Deraniyagala remembers it.

The reader is forever placed in the uncomfortable position of imagining the horror, of feeling the pain. So are we masochists or is something else at work here? This could happen to me, to any of us, at any time. We living beings are fragile; those of us with families, with loved ones, are ever “hostages to fortune,” as Francis Bacon has said. The reality is that Deraniyagala has been living through these last nine years, which are but an onionskin away from us all. This book invites us to look through that onionskin and see what can happen. Her choice has been to remember, to recreate in her mind and on the pages of this book, the happy lives of her family. Other than choosing to forget, she has no other choice. She chose to remember love and how her family lived, even though she lost them all. Readers can look away. I chose not to.
Profile Image for Karen Witzler.
477 reviews157 followers
April 12, 2020
Our human sister Sonali gives us a map, a guidebook to human grief. I read this during Covid 19 lockdown, completing it on Easter Sunday.

I am most struck by the nature imagery: images of birds and plants, their dangerous wildness, along with cultivated gardens, imbued with greater power and mystery than all philosophies and religions and which seem to imperceptibly (along with time and the caring relatives who knew to hide the booze and knives) bring her back to a functional healing.
Profile Image for Thomas.
14 reviews2 followers
November 30, 2013
I'm sure that a lot of people cannot relate to this book and the author's motivation for it, but for me, it voices back my own shift of reality due to trauma and the resulting mental illness, and that comforts me. Some parts of the book are absolutely stunning and then more so when I remember it is a memoir and all true. The author has a talent for writing so raw and beautifully, often poetic.

I know that this book is a big part of the authors healing and am so proud of her for facing it. Some reviewers say that the book makes her seem "selfish", but when one is in complete shock and does not have the capacity to believe what is unraveling around them, it is very difficult for them to interact with others and I for one, completely understand her fear of speaking and "making it real". I think a lot of people do not understand that not only was she grieving the bizarrely sudden loss of her family, but the trauma from the suddenness and the trauma from the wave itself.

I thank her for sharing so openly and hope to write to her one day, explaining how her book has comforted me. Like JK Rowling said, writing the Harry Potter books was her "therapy", and I think this is a similar case, and sometimes that makes the best novels.
Profile Image for Emma Scott.
Author 42 books7,705 followers
July 10, 2019
I'm struggling with how to describe what I feel about this book except to say I wanted more. More insight, more introspection. More HOW.

For example, she speaks early on of wanting to kill herself. As a grieving mother, I've been there too, but instead of being taken through that journey--which is in an important one, I think--the suicidal feelings simply fade out of the narrative. We are never shown the evolution of that kind of pain, but then again, maybe that wasn't her point or her purpose for writing this. I'm conscious that I'm bringing expectations to this kind of story, because when you're still drowning, (you never fully arrive on dry land; I know this author knows this better than I) you want to know how someone who survived an even more turbulent sea manages to weather the waves. So many beautiful, poignant moments are revealed, all awash with grief, but none--to me--are as illuminating as I need them to be. Again, my expectations might be unfair, but I can't help but feel that while we understand that she survived this unbelievable tragedy, we never see how. And the hope for a how is what drew me to read it. What did she lean on, day to day, that carried her through? I don't know.

I have to expand my pain x 5 to fathom what this author has endured. Her resilience, the beauty of her words, and her loving remembrance of her lost family are rendered exquisitely. And I can't reiterate enough that my expectations for what I wanted the book to be simply weren't what she set out to write. (Therefore, I am declining to rate it.) She had to write this memoir that was, I'm sure, first and foremost for her. Possibly for her own survival. I just wish we could know that.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,200 reviews269 followers
September 12, 2014
For three years I've tried to indelibly imprint they are dead on my consciousness, afraid of slipping up and forgetting, of thinking they are alive. Coming out of that lapse, however momentary, will be more harrowing than the constant knowing, surely.

Wave was heartbreakingly beautiful. I initially wanted to read this book because of the Tsunami element, but it really is not about a Tsunami at all. It's about losing everyone you love in one moment, and how you learn to live with it. The author's descriptions of her emotions is so heartfelt and raw, you can't help feeling some of her intense pain. Her writing is delicate yet forceful. You can almost see her move through the stages of grief (over a seven year period), which is not always a linear process. She explains how you she had to mourn the loss of their history, but also the loss of their future together. She talks about her guilt at not being able to save her children, but also at having a loss so big, that it made other people uncomfortable.
These five years I've been so fearful of details. The more I remember, the more inconsolable I will be, I've told myself. But now increasingly I don't tussle with my memories. I want to remember. I want to know. Perhaps I can better tolerate being inconsolable now. Perhaps I suspect that remembering won't make me any more inconsolable. Or less

Thanks so much for recommending this book Sam. It really touched my heart.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
748 reviews87 followers
January 3, 2015
This is a difficult book to review because the story is tragic and heartbreaking and I feel terrible for the many people who suffered through the Boxing Day tsunami. But as a reader, this particular story didn't grab me the way I expected it to. Deraniyagala certainly doesn't need to care if I enjoyed reading her story or how many stars I give it. I'm sure that the act of writing this helped her to deal with her horrible loss and that ultimately is what matters. What happened to her was incredible and devastating and I was compelled by her account of the experience. But most of this book is about the aftermath and her grief.

Grief is a tough emotion to write about without sounding selfish - after all, it's about tremendous loss in her life so how could her grief not be all about her? Grief is also a tough emotion to read about because you aren't feeling the grief and you want to be enjoying the book you're reading so you start thinking "Ok, I get it, you're miserable but THEN what happened?" (Now who sounds selfish?) There seemed to be so many practical details missing from this story. How was it possible that her home in London just sat there for years waiting for her? Weren't there bills to pay? A mortgage? How were the obligations of daily life being taken care of? I found myself worrying about these kinds of things throughout the book which I am sure was not her intention.

I may not have found this book to be the story I was looking for but I am grateful to be reminded that life can change in an instant - Enjoy it while you can.
Profile Image for Judith E.
546 reviews191 followers
February 10, 2015
Thank you Ms. Deraniyagala for sharing all of this. So many poignant thoughts about grief: "How is this me? I was always safe?", "The four of us, we slept here in all our innocence. That'll teach us.", "In an instant I lost my shelter."

Not many of us have suffered what she has, but the mind control and exhaustion of grief are inescapable.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
December 18, 2017
Waveis Sonali Deraniyagala's horrific experience as the lone surviving member of her family from the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Indonesia. The tsunami struck suddenly the day after Christmas. Deraniyagala was staying at a tourist hotel with her husband, their two young sons, and her parents.

The actual event takes places in the first few pages. One moment, Deraniyagala, an economist, has "the life of a dream" according to a friend. Within a few minutes, all of this is wiped out. Deraniyagala flees in a jeep with her husband and children but the water overtakes them. Somehow, Deraniyagala in the midst of the swirling waters manages to grab a tree and survives the wave. But her pain is just beginning.

Most of Wave is about that pain, unendurable for years. Deraniyagala is watched over by friends and family for six months to keep her from killing herself. She tries drinking, forgetting, and not forgetting.

It is in the exploration of the power of memory that was of most interest to me.

Deraniyagala discovers that while the pain of remembering her family is fierce, the pain of forgetting is unbearable. Her recovery, such as it is, is a very slow one and marked more by the ability to tolerate the memories of her life "before", to allow her children and husband to continue to live in her and her imagination.

This bookis harsh-there are no silver clouds, no "lessons", nothing but the searing pain of grief in many forms and guises. Deraniyagala is marked by her tragedy-she avoids telling strangers about herself to spare them, as well as herself, the shock.

There is a brave purity of pain expressed and lived through that I admired. Although painful, the book also carried the joy of Deraniyagala's life "before" and the testimony of love that does not end with death.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews875 followers
July 12, 2018
In Sonali Deraniyagala’s frank and candid memoir, she recounts the loss of her parents, husband, and two sons who were all killed in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. Wave is every bit as harrowing as you’d imagine, but it’s also refreshingly sincere and devoid of sensationalism - instead it rather beautifully captures one woman’s honest and occasionally ugly experience with grief. Although it’s at times a bit meandering and repetitive in execution it is utterly gripping from start to finish. There isn’t much hope or resolution here, but there is hardly a scarcity of gratitude or resilience.
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