Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Wave & Wave

Yeah, it’s two great books with almost the same title.

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey, is from the genre that mixes compelling science with the author’s personal experiences. The science concerns the physics of giant waves and interviews with the people who study them, along with an investigation of previous understandings of giant waves, and how we are still underestimating the frequency and effect of rogue waves of 80’ or more. The science chapters are fascinating.

The personal-experience chapters eventually focus on time spent with champion surfer, inventor, and adventurer Laird Hamilton. The adventures on the waves are the closest I’ve come to reading a true-life Doc Savage story. If Hamilton isn’t bigger than life, we’re given an excellent picture of just how big life can be. For a more detailed review, this one is good.

Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, has an entirely different purpose and emotional register. It's not how big life can be, it's how big a disaster can be and how that hits one person. The cover design matches the book’s impact.

The first chapters are a mind-wrenching account of being caught in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. It’s unlike anything else I’ve read. The rest of the book follows a tortured path through survivor’s guilt and the mechanisms of a return to life. The copy I read didn't have a subtitle, but now it's subtitled "A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami."

I found myself reading a number of disaster stories during the pandemic. A disaster this huge, that hit a world away from almost everyone I know, is one of those things I try to remember as part of maintaining perspective. I associated Wave with another book I loved, Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. Dillard's book I can reread, Deraniyagala's, probably not.

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