Friday, 21 March 2014

Wave - Sonali Deraniyagala

As a student of literature, I've been trained to analyse and critique everything I come across - an occupational hazard that can be difficult to turn off. So when I came to read Wave, a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, I was thrown from the outset.

Knowing from the blurb that this memoir was written by a woman who lost all of her family when the wave hit the coast of Sri Lanka, and having been told in my previous seminar that I would be "crying by page 17", I opened the book cautiously, actively making an attempt to do away with the analytic tendencies I've become so accustomed to.

The intensity of the memoir begins from the outset, as the wave surges over the land, a moment which is brutal in its telling. Yet the rawest, most poignant passages in the memoir are in the chapters that follow, spanning numerous years, as Deraniyagala describes haunting memories of her boys playing in the playroom in their London flat, or her husband's cooking, or visits to her family home in Colombo...memories of what was once her ordinary life.

Wave was certainly one of the most powerful books I've ever read - for the very reason that when I got carried away with what was actually incredibly beautifully written prose, I had to stop myself to realise that this a real-life account, this isn't someone's imagination anymore. The narrative is unfathomable, and where fiction would offer some distance, this memoir does not.

Last Tuesday, I sat in a class where we discussed the portrayal of ghosts, post-apocalypse and survival in Wave. It's what we're there for, and we have our reasons, but a certain respect for the situation meant no one was really prepared to talk about language or syntax or imagery. How can you, when the author lays bare her grief in such a raw, uncloaked way?

As she writes, Deraniyagala seems to comprehend, if not necessarily come to terms with, what has happened to her family, as she moves through stages of grief - her anger and sorrow palpable. Indeed, this narrative seems like it was one that needed to be written, more than it needed to be read.

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