About the book

Title: Wave

Author: Sonali Deraniyagala

Genre: Memoir

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.

(CW/TW – Loss of family, suicide attempts, natural disaster)


I want to sit in the back of this moving van forever. In a few hours it will be light. It will be tomorrow. I don’t want it to be tomorrow. I am terrified that tomorrow the truth will start.

If I was a person who cried while reading books, I would’ve bawled all over the place when reading this. Sonali Deraniyagala and her family were on holiday – relaxing in a hotel in Yala National Park – when the tsunami happened. In a mad rush to get somewhere safe – even though they have no idea what the hell is happening – Sonali and her family get into a random safari jeep, but it isn’t enough. In the resulting disaster she gets separated from the rest of them. When the waves die down, she is rescued and taken to a hospital, and then is taken to her relations.

They meant nothing, those words, tsunami, tidal wave. Something came for us. I didn’t know what it was then, and I still didn’t. How can something so unknown do this? How can my family be dead? We were in our hotel room?

Wave is not an easy read. Every sentence is written short and choppy, and it delivers like bullets. The memoir is brutally honest, because the author reacts to the horror in an utterly human manner. First in denial, survivor’s guilt, then as the truth of the deaths hit her she attempts suicide. She visits the ruins of the hotel again and again, digging the rubble to find a trace of her past. Her journey in finding solace begins as she finds nature reclaiming the hotel ruins, plants growing in the barren land. It’s a hard journey – it takes two years for her to finally go back to London, and four to enter her old home where she lived with her family. This book is a story of overcoming grief and moving on after horrendous tragedy.

I’ve actually been to the place inside Yala National Park where the bungalow once stood. Now there’s nothing but a broken foundation and a beautiful wave-shaped memorial. “This place was destroyed by the tsunami,” my mother had said. The seven year old me hadn’t quite understood what she said. I mean, the sea looked pretty far away. But the marks the tsunami had left are still there if I look for them: random graveyards and roofless, broken houses along the coastline. Maybe a line drawn on a lighthouse about a foot over my head, with the numbers 04.12.26 painted near it. Or maybe a person, like my sister’s teacher. Maybe that was why this book hit so hard like a punch in the gut.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (five stars)

Have you read this book? I might not have even heard of it if an excerpt of this wasn’t in my English lit anthology textbook. Go check it out, I’m 99.999% sure you won’t regret it!

3 thoughts on “Book review: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala // a memoir of life after the tsunami

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