Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson

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Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This book covers the devastating earthquake and tsunami which occurred in Thailand in 2004 where an estimated 230,000 lost their lives. This book is a personal account of just one of those lost lives.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2011
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 978-1848545588

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For some reason I thought this book was a work of fiction and immediately felt that the title was overlong - and even a little pretentious. Then I turned to the back cover and discovered that this book is, in fact, part exploration, part travelogue, part biography and part prayer. That put a completely different slant on things. And when I read the Afterword which explains that this is a personal account, I'm thinking that it's so personal, how can a reviewer possibly review it in less than sympathetic terms. This type of book is so sensitive that I feel I'm treading on eggshells a little - but I'll do my best.

The book opens after the catastrophic event and the narrator/author Simon is in the local area of Phi Phi. He describes it in glowing terms (which may sound a little strange) as he aims, on a rather arduous climb, to be rewarded with a stunning view. And immediately I'm struck with Stephenson's lilting style of writing. For example, ... an elderly lady carrying bags of rice over each shoulder as if they were no more than foam guesthouse pillows. How lovely and evocative is that, I'm thinking to myself.

We learn that the author's brother (and also the partner of the brother) were casualties of the tsunami. And as the book progresses there's a sense that the two brothers (who were close in years) were also close in their sibling relationship. And I couldn't help but think - how can Stephenson write about such a painful, personal loss and put it in the public arena. He tells us his reasons (not that he needs to, of course) and he also tells us how the book's title came about. It's bible-related, apt and poignant with a capital 'P'.

Stephenson takes us back to his and Dominic's childhood in a leafy part of Edinburgh. He gives us many, many examples of their innocent, charming boyhood adventures and milestones. Schooldays, school friends etc. And also of how the two brothers grew up to have different interests and pursued different careers/professions. Interspersed with all of these anecdotes is a running commentary all about Thailand. Both brothers seemed to be smitten by the people, the food, the culture etc. We also read about the overwhelming grief, the sense of loss, the gruesomeness of identification and of Stephenson's own personal hell as he waits for news of his brother. Stephenson shares all of these details - and more - with his readers. It's all rather intimate as well as being tragic. Sad reading indeed.

Mixed in with the narrative, you can't help but contrast the baking heat of Thailand and the cold of Edinburgh. As I was reading, I was struck time and time again as to how personal this book is: almost to the point where I felt as if I was intruding on a family's grief. I didn't really want to be in that position, if I'm honest. Too much information for my liking. And my uncomfortable feeling only deepened as I continued to read.

On a slight negative I also felt that from the middle onwards some parts of the narrative panned out unnecessarily. I think this book may have had a stronger impact, had it been shorter. I didn't really need all of the tiny details of Dominic's life laid at my feet, unpicked in front of me. A few anecdotes and family stories would have done the job beautifully and possibly left me wanting more. But that's my personal opinion, I hasten to add. There is no doubt that this book is sensitively written about a tragedy from a personal perspective but a tragedy which encompassed a whole nation - and beyond. Read it and be in awe of the awful power of nature and of how one family tries to come to terms with their loss.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen.

Buy Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Let Not The Waves of the Sea by Simon Stephenson at Amazon.com.


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