Let Not the Waves – Simon Stephenson (2011)

“The world changes when you lose somebody you love. Whether or not your loss begins with an earthquake, the planet tilts on its axis and remains there. At first, this is dizzying. Life is suddenly so strange that all you can do is desperately cling to this earth’s spinning surface and hope not to fall off yourself. Over the months and years, you can learn to live in this unfamiliar orbit, to walk upright again… In this way, time passes.”

This book is the true story of a brother killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, one of 230,000 people who were also killed on that Boxing Day. Written as a mix of childhood reminiscences and meditations on family, this covers a wide range of topics from Greek myths to the legends of First Peoples in Oregon, linked by the ravages of the unruly sea bed.

This is also a very sad book, written by the younger brother of Dominic Stephenson, the 27 year old Scotsman who was killed with his girlfriend Eileen and thousands of other people. It’s a book of how one family tried to deal with the awful news, of how hard it was waiting for official confirmation of the deaths, of waiting to get Dominic’s body repatriated and then choosing where to bury him, he whose life was cut so short so unexpectedly far away.

Stephenson is a strong writer and although this is his first published novel, he has written screenplays professionally, and his skill for a steadily moving plot shows here. Additionally, he also qualified as a physician in the UK, a knowledge which would come in handy later on when trying to understand his brother’s injuries. The death of his close elder brother causes months of disruption in a previous settled life, and he uproots himself from his career in London and flies to Thailand to try to understand more fully his brother’s unexpected demise and the deaths of all the other people.

Whilst there, he joins other mourning family members and friends, strangers all at first, and works to build a memorial garden for the victims. In doing so, he meets local people who also lost loved ones, and together, as the months pass, they become close friends and try to move on.

However, the grief journey for Stephenson is not without significant difficulties for him and for his family. There are significant health problems which plague Simon and his mother, there are career issues to be addressed, and an ongoing challenge to try to bring sense to an otherwise senseless natural tragedy.

Although I would not say that I enjoyed this book, it was an interesting and thoughtful read about one man’s journey to accept the unacceptable. A provocative read.

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