3QD friend Sonali Deraniyagala's new book, released this week and Amazon's book of the month is a memoir of a horrible tragedy. An excerpt over at NPR, in text and in audio:
Economist Sonali Deraniyagala lost her husband, parents and two young sons in the terrifying Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. They had been vacationing on the southern coast of her home country Sri Lanka when the wave struck. Wave is her brutal but lyrically written account of the awful moment and the grief-crazed months after, as she learned to live with her almost unbearable losses — and allow herself to remember details of her previous life. In this scene, Deraniyagala revists both the house of her parents in Colombo, which has been emptied and closed up since the tsunami, and Yala National Park, where she was when the wave struck. Wave will be published March 5.
Sri Lanka, July – December 2005
Someone had removed the brass plate with my father's name on it from the gray front wall. It had his name etched in black italics. I sat in the passenger seat of my friend Mary-Anne's car, my eyes clinging to the holes in the wall where that brass plate was once nailed.
This had been my parents' home in Colombo for some thirty-five years, and my childhood home. For my sons it was their home in Sri Lanka. They were giddy with excitement when we visited every summer and Christmas. Vik took his first steps here, and Malli, when younger, called the house “Sri Lanka.” And in our last year, 2004, when Steve and I had sabbaticals from our jobs and the four of us spent nine months in Colombo until September, this house was the hub of our children's lives.
This was where we were to return to on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth of December. My mother had already given Saroja, our cook, the menu for dinner. This was where they didn't come back to. Now, six months after the wave, I dared to set eyes on this house.
I was wary as I sat in Mary-Anne's car, which was parked by our front wall. I didn't want to look around. I was afraid of seeing too much. But I couldn't help myself, I peeked.
Apart for the now nameless wall, the outside of the house had not changed. The tall iron gates still had spikes on top to keep burglars out. The rail on the balcony was white and safe. The mango tree I was parked under was the same mango tree that gave me an allergic reaction when it flowered, that sickly tree, dark blotches on its leaves. I noticed some small black stones on the driveway, and I remembered. Vik would juggle with these stones when he waited out here for the New Lanka Caterers van to come by selling kimbula paan — sugarcoated bread rolls shaped as crocodiles.
It was a humid, sticky afternoon, and Mary-Anne rolled down the car windows. From its perch on a nearby telephone post, a bulbul trilled. And I recalled the pair of red-vented bulbuls that nested in the lamp that hung in the car porch, just over the front wall. In the hollow of the glass lampshade, there would be a nest built with dried twigs and leaves and even a green drinking straw. The boys were spellbound by the arrival of fidgety chicks, still part covered in pale red shell. They watched the first flutter from that lamp many times, shooing off the mob of crows that rallied on the wall waiting for an unready chick to drop to the ground. Now I could see the two of them, placing a chair under the lamp to stand on and get a better look. Shoving each other off that chair. My turn now. I wanna see the baby bird. Get off.