Wave: Surviving Enormous Loss and Grief After the 2004 Tsunami

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sonali Deraniyagala's memoir Wave is a harrowing account of losing her parents, husband, and two young sons when the tsunami struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004. Unflinching, beautifully written, and very powerful, the book is about how she's grappled with her enormous grief. Wave was the Leonard Lopate Show Book Club’s February selection.


Deraniyagala remembered what happened the morning the tsunami came. She and her family and some friends were vacationing on Sri Lanka's southeast coast. “I was at the door of my hotel room, talking to a friend and she looked behind me and she said ‘Oh, my god, the sea’s coming in.’”

She and her husband ran out of their room with their sons. They saw a Jeep with a driver and they jumped in and drove off, but soon the car was in water, suddenly floating, and it rolled over, flinging Deraniyagala into the water. Her account of getting swept away is breathtaking. She explained what it was like to write about it: “I partly wrote about it to try and understand what happened, because being in that water was so bewildering, it was such chaos.”

Writing was part of Deraniyagala's healing process, a way to cope with overwhelming loss. “I didn’t set out to write a book, I set out to write for myself to try and understand what happened to me," she said. "In the face of this kind of sudden and impossible trauma, my reaction was to try and distance myself, or kind of shut away my family, to not feel them or think about them, to rip away all details of them. I began to write really to bring them close. Because my method of dealing with it, of shutting them away, was also very painful. I wrote really to gather the threads of my life and our life to bring them close and that process continues all the time.”


Sonali Deraniyalaga

Comments [12]


Very nice show.

Feb. 28 2014 05:15 PM
dmh from nyc

In the acknowledgements, Ms. Deraniyagala thanks her therapist, Mark Epstein. Could she talk a bit about that experience?

Feb. 28 2014 12:50 PM

What would you offer to others who have experienced such profound losses? What did you find especially helpful? Are there steps in your recovery you wish you had done differently?

Feb. 28 2014 11:53 AM
Taylor DiMeglio from Warwick, NY

I am wondering how you want to be responded to when, within casual conversation, elements of your story arise? What do you most hate to hear? Is there anything that can be said which you find acceptable, or do you prefer people leave it entirely alone? (After the busy time of post-publishing recedes...)

Feb. 28 2014 11:36 AM
Jalna Jaeger

Wave is a beautiful, heartbreaking book. The family she lost comes alive in it's pages. This book will stay with me for a long, long time.

Feb. 27 2014 07:17 AM
Janet from Toronto

WAVE is harrowing, heartbreaking and healing. Find the courage to read this extraordinary book. It’s the least you can do since Deraniyagala faced such darkness and summoned the grace and courage to not only write it, but to share such an ultimately redemptive story with the world.

Feb. 25 2014 08:34 AM
mb clinton

This book reminded me of one written by Joan Didion. How do we wrap our minds around the death of love ones, when we think our way of life will protects us and tragedy only happens to the other. The present can be a gift. What did the man say? "None of us, are getting out of here alive".

Feb. 24 2014 06:19 PM
Susan B. from NYC

I read your book in three sittings. It is beyond comment in its content and emotion.
Beyond the wrenching feelings throughout, I could not stop thinking about how you managed to engage in any way with people. How did you cope with the isolation of nobody, but nobody in your life being able to understand. I could only think of holocaust victims or forgive me, survivors of massacre..From my heart, the deepest part, I hope you are able to have experiences that comfort and give to you.

Feb. 18 2014 01:49 PM
Janelle Yates

In your grief, do you remember the point--if it was a point--when you realized you would survive emotionally? Or decided to survive emotionally?

Feb. 17 2014 05:28 AM

What happened to Orlantha?

Feb. 16 2014 01:52 PM
Kressel from Monsey, NY

I just finished the book, and I too thought it was beautifully written and gut-wrenchingly honest. Reading about her sons was the hardest part.

I'd like to hear about what the author's doing now. The bio on the flap of my book says that she's involved in disaster recovery for emerging nations.

Feb. 14 2014 12:34 PM
Janelle Yates

This is a beautifully written book.

I'm curious about its origins: Why did the author begin writing about her experience? Did she start out writing for herself and then, at a later point, decide to create and publish a book? Why did she decide to share her experience with the world, rather than just friends and family?

Also, does she have any thoughts on the feedback she received during the writing process? Were some potential critics reluctant to review the manuscript because it describes a traumatic experience, painful material? Who turned out to be the best editors/reviewers for her manuscript as it was in process.

These questions are not a criticism at all. I am glad that she published the book and that I had the opportunity to read it. I'm just curious about her thoughts on the issues.

Feb. 11 2014 01:27 PM

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