Today at the book club, we discussed Wave, the memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala about surviving the 2004 tsunami that killed her two sons, her husband, and her parents. This was a very good discussion because we had a number of different opinions about the author. Some people found her very selfish and self-involved, and others felt she responded in a way that was reflective of the devastation that she had survived. A number of people felt very removed and detached from the author in a way they weren’t expecting, given the story she was telling. However, it was also noted that the author herself seemed very detached from the story. Her grief is overwhelming and non-stop; there is no hopeful ending here. She has survived, and written this book, but even at the end, she still yearns for her lost family.
One of the most compelling parts of the book is the way she talks about some of her actions after the tsunami. She recounts these events, seemingly without emotion. For example, when a Dutch family moves into the renovated house she lost her entire family in, she takes it upon herself to harass them into leaving. How dare they get to live in that house when Deraniyagala’s family died there, she thinks. They never leave, but they do change their phone number, and soon the author falls back into a stupor of Ambien and alcohol.
The writing is very sparse and unemotional, which several readers found off-putting. Other readers felt it was appropriate given the numbness she was clearly feeling. When faced with a great loss like this, the mind often shuts down. Otherwise, how would anyone survive?
There was some discussion of her privileged background (she is able to stay away from her London home for four years before returning, she continually travels, she doesn’t seem to work during much of this memoir) and that made it difficult for some people to empathize with her. Certainly there were people who lost more than she did (such as people who lived in that area and could not relocate or who lost their only home), but she cannot see past her own losses.
At the end, most people gave this book a 2 or a 3. Though the story was compelling, the lack of emotion made it difficult to empathize with her for some of the book club members.