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The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

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Sonali Deraniyagala thinks nothing of it at first. She and her family are almost ready to leave their hotel at Yala, a national park on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka, when a friend says "Oh my God, the sea's coming in." Sonali turns and sees the white curl of a big wave that does not seem particularly alarming. But then the wave turns to froth, the froth to foam, and the foam to waves rushing closer and closer to their room. The family tries to flee, but when the tsunami has subsided, only Sonali has survived.

Dead are her parents, her husband, and her two sons, seven-year-old Vikram and five-year-old Malli. From this stunning opening, the author takes us through her odyssey of grief, despair, and remembrance in the years to come. She plots her suicide, starts drinking too much, and stalks the Dutch family who moves into her parents' former home. Her sorrow is palpable as she describes herself, mutilated by loss. Yet this book is so much more than a wild shriek of pain. Memories of her childhood, the early days of courtship with her husband, and details of her boys' lives come to life in pristine prose. The imagery in this book is amazing, from the "gluey dark snot" coming out of Sonali's nose after she emerges from the filthy water of the wave to happier memories of eating mussels on the beach with her family, "the clatter of slurped-out shells on a tin plate, salt on the children's eyelashes, sunset."

Six years after the wave forever changes her life, Sonali goes on a whale-watching excursion. As the boat chugs out of the harbor, she remembers Vikram's fascination with whales and feels the agony of having this experience when he cannot. But as she finds herself transfixed by the "unearthly dimensions" and "effortless grace" of possibly the largest creatures that have ever lived, she begins to "want to take in all this blue whale magic," maybe more so because her son cannot. What a beautiful, powerful book The Wave is.

Anna W @ Central

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