Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

From the Editors

Editor’s Pick: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

by Brigid Mullane , March 27, 2014Leave a comment

The Wave

On Boxing Day in 2004 an earthquake deep in the Indian ocean – the third largest ever recorded, which caused the entire Earth to shake by 1 centimetre – triggered a tsunami that devastated the coastal towns of Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Over two hundred and thirty thousand people were killed. When confronted with these numbers it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of such an event. Over thirty-five thousand causalities occurred in Sri Lanka alone. Around two hundred and fifty of those people were in the Yala National Park on the south-east coast. Five belonged to the same family.

In Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir Wave we are given an insight into one woman’s experience of that day, and the desolation that followed. Deraniyagala, raised in Sri Lanka and an economist living in London, had returned with her family for the Christmas holidays.  Her husband, Stephen, and two young sons, Vik and Malli, were getting ready to leave, their safari vacation over, when she noticed the ocean rising: ‘Waves not receding or dissolving. Closer now. Brown and gray. Brown or gray. Waves rushing past the conifers and coming closer to our room. All these waves now, charging, churning. Suddenly furious. Suddenly menacing.’Deraniyagala’s parents were in the hotel room next door. As Deraniyagala and her husband run past with the children, they do not stop to knock. Only Deraniyagala survives. Her parents, husband and two sons are swallowed by the wave.

Reminiscent of Joan Didion’s duet Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking, Deraniyagala’s prose is cool and detached, allowing us access into what might otherwise be an unfathomable pain. Deraniyagala is not prone to over dramatisation – indeed her story is in no need of it – but the distant way that she describes the months after the tsunami allows the reader to slowly inhale the reality of this grief, to examine it closely without being overwhelmed by it. In the periphery of Deraniyagala’s vision we see glimpses of the family and friends in Colombo who are trying desperately to keep her safe: aunts spiriting away alcohol and sharp objects, friends visiting from London, a cousin who metes out sleeping pills one at a time.

As she emerges from the initial stupor we are with her when her anger takes over. In a heartbreaking passage, Deraniyagala recounts her obsession with the family that comes to occupy her parents’ house. She spends nights outside, rattling the gates, pretending to be a ghost. She whispers threats into the phone until the family changes their number. She attempts to confront the extent of her loss, the immensity of her pain becoming clear in the smallest of details:

‘We will not fly back to London. The boys will not be at school on Tuesday. Steve will not call me from work to ask if I took them in on time. Vik will not play tag outside his classroom again. Malli will not skip in a circle with some little girls. The Gruffalo. Malli will not cuddle me in bed and read about the Gruffalo, with that poisonous wart at the end of its nose. Vik will not be excited by whoever scored for Liverpool. They will not peep into the oven to check if my apple crumble has cooked.’

And yet, despite the intensity of Deraniyagala’s grief, the effect of Wave is not entirely devastating.

In his review for the New Yorker, ‘A Better Quality of Agony’, Teju Cole describes Wave as ‘two stories in one.’ The initial story, Cole says, is that of ‘the stunned horror of a woman who lost, in one moment, her past, present, and future…The second story is about remembering the life of a family when they were happy.’ It is this dual narrative that brings light to the experience of reading Wave. She returns to the family’s London house and among the detritus of a life lived the image of the life she has lost comes into sharper focus. Vignettes of life before the tsunami rise to the surface, a life that had been described by a friend in the moments before the tsunami as ‘a dream’.

As the years pass Deraniyagala begins to emerge into the world, almost without will. She simply lives. Deraniyagala’s memoir offers no answers; there is no moment of resolution. But there are moments of relief. From her new apartment in New York eight years later, Deraniyagala allows herself to slip ‘between this life and that,’ allowing space for the voices of her lost family:

‘This is very different from those early months after the wave, when all I heard was a sudden whisper, some snatches of sound. Their voices have doubled in strength now, not faded with time. Their chatter plays with my thoughts no end. And I am sustained by this, it gives me spark.’

 

Brigid Mullane is editor of Kill Your Darlings

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1397733525000-TheOppositeOfLoneliness-600

Carody Culver

A published afterlife: Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan looked set for literary stardom. For an aspiring writer, her credentials were so perfect they could have been lifted straight from fiction. Read more »

warning

SA Jones

‘Weather is never just weather’: Sophie Cunningham’s Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy

We’ve had national disasters in the forty years since Cyclone Tracy, but Tracy’s iconic status in the national consciousness endures. Read more »

The Fictional Woman

Carody Culver

Learning from semi-charmed lives

When famous public figures take a step further and use their personal experience as a literary vehicle for exploring wider social issues, I can happily check my celebrity memoir prejudice at the bookshop door. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

Douglass books

Julia Tulloh

High fantasy writers who aren’t George RR Martin, and who are also women

‘Tolkien is the greatest burden the modern fantasy author must labour under and eventually escape from if they are to succeed.’ So wrote Australian high fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, a decade and a half ago. Replace Tolkien with George RR Martin, and one might say the same principle applies today. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »