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Photo courtesy of Ann Billingsley

Devastating. There is no other word to describe Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir about losing her entire family to the 2004 tsunami.

From the first page, we are cast into the day’s wrenching chaos. One minute, Deraniyagala is on the veranda at her beachfront hotel in Sri Lanka. The next, she’s running for her life with her young sons and husband in tow--pointedly leaving her parents behind. Then, suddenly, she is alone, clinging to a branch as the muddy waters threaten to take her under (a fate she often wishes she had succumbed to).

The first years of Deraniyagala’s grief are punctuated by a sharp avoidance; it’s too painful to visit her London home, too difficult to see the rubber mat her son once used to wipe his boots. But as the years progress, she finds a certain solace in remembering her family and embracing her loss.

Ultimately, it’s these memories--poetic, visceral and quotidian--that help both author and reader comprehend the horror. “[My family’s] voices have doubled in strength now, not faded with time,” she writes. “And I am sustained by this, it gives me spark.”

Wave is not an easy book to read, but it is a beautiful and bravely courageous one.

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