Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave is an extraordinary book for many a reason — not the least of which: its consuming transition from a book about death to a book about life. But initially, the most captivating characteristic of this memoir is its incredible detail.
The further I got into the book, the more I began to wonder about Deraniyagala’s writing process. Was she writing this stuff down as she was experiencing it? (Not the tidal wave, obviously, but the subsequent events.) I started to think this was the only possible answer, unless she had an insanely good memory. Sure, her detailed recounting of the death of her family members was plucked from memory, but that’s also the indelible sort of event that one probably could not forget, even if he or she wanted to.
So I started reading the book under the assumption that she was writing as it went along, which I don’t think was too big of a leap. It got me thinking even more about her process. I’m sure getting it all on paper was some sort of catharsis for her. The acknowledgements suggest her therapist recommended she write it down. I wondered how this affected the way she experienced grief. Even if it initially helped to talk/write about it, was it painful to relive these dismal thoughts she was having? Was she ever acting in certain ways (“haunting” her old house, returning to Yala and looking for remnants) because she thought they would work well in the book? That sounds cynical, but I wonder if there was any sort of subliminal influence that stoked an intellectual curiosity.
Above all, it seems that in writing Wave, Deraniyagala had no choice but to be incredibly honest with herself. I’m sure that helped in her recovery. I just feel lucky that her means of recovery allowed me to get a glimpse into the psyche of a person in this incredibly unenviable position. I often forgot that I was reading non-fiction, which made the story all the more powerful when the fact that Wave was rooted in truth set in.