Though we’re sure your spirits are lifted with the early arrival of spring, you can always count on us to bring you back down. Just kidding.
We love a good cry, and even better someone’s truly tragic story that ends with redemption or resilience. And since misery loves company, we thought we’d include you in this little cry sesh. Below, we’ve curated a list of some of the best tragic memoirs out there. Be it nature, man, or addiction, the adversities these authors overcame are no joke. So, yes, you’re going to need to stock up on Kleenex.
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
Tragedy doesn’t care if you’re on vacation. It stops for no one. Not even Sonali Deraniyagala, a Sri Lankan memoirist who was relaxing at a beach resort the day the Indian Ocean tsunami bathed Sri Lanka’s coast in disaster. It was that day that she was swept up by a 30-foot racing wave then left clinging to a tree branch for survival as rubble and bodies rushed by. It’s also the day she lost her two sons, her husband, and her parents to the wave. Read about her terror, her rescue, and the shocking aftermath. This one’s a soaker—no way around it.
Her, by Christa Parravani
You don’t have to be an identical twin to relate to this woman’s pain. Christa and her twin sister, Cara, were more than sisters, more than best friends—they were soul mates. They shared everything, including a troubled, often traumatic, childhood, but at age 24, their paths split. After being attacked and raped, Cara fell into a rabbit hole of depression, drugs, and eventually death. Christa shares her struggle with putting the pieces of her shattered life back together in Her. And the story, like a knife to the heart, cuts deep.
Desert Flower, by Waris Dirie
You may recognize those flawless cheekbones from the pages of a glossy magazine, but supermodel Waris Dirie has a story so sordid, you have to read it to believe it. A native of Somalia, a barefoot Dirie grew up in a world of tyranny and trauma (perhaps the most traumatic experience being her genital mutilation, which she recollects here in bone-chilling detail). At age 12—and promised to a much older man in an arranged marriage—she escaped, seeking freedom in the Somali desert, but finding hunger, drought, and danger. Desert Flower is her tragic, resilient, and amazing story.
A Widow’s Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
From one of contemporary literature’s most notorious fiction writers comes this tearjerker about love and loss. Joyce Carol Oates was married to Ontario Review editor Raymond Smith for 46 years before he died due to complications with pneumonia. A Widow’s Story is exactly that; it’s her story, which describes in heartbreaking detail her final days with Smith and the unexpected aftermath of his passing.
One Liter of Tears, by Aya Kito
A liter? More like buckets. And buckets. More than a memoir, 1 Litre of Tears is actually the heart-wrenching diary that belonged to a young Japanese woman coping with a terminal illness. Her name is Aya Kito, and at age 15, she was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration—in English, that’s a disease that strips one of life’s pleasures like eating, walking, and talking, while keeping the mind in tact, essentially rendering the remnants of a functioning body into a prison. It’s an awful disease, and it’s why Kito started writing. Though by the end of her way-too-brief life, it was an outlet she used to remind herself she was still alive.
Buy it on Amazon.
Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Another in the super-tragic diary section of our virtual bookshelf, Guantanamo Diary is the New York Times bestseller that the U.S. government would probably rather you not read. It details the day-to-day of an imprisoned Guantanamo detainee. Collateral damage in the War on Terror, Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been held since 2002 in the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, though he’s never been charged of a crime. In his diary, he divulges the daily abuse he experiences at the hands of U.S. officials. But the most tragic part? He’s still detained today.
A Mother’s Reckoning, by Sue Klebold
In a controversial yet incredibly timely read, Sue Klebold—yes, that Klebold—writes about that tragic day we now all know as the Columbine massacre. On April 20, 1999, Sue’s son, Dylan, and his partner in actual crime, Eric Harris, shot up their Littleton high school, murdering 13 innocent people and wounding several others before turning the shotguns on themselves. In A Mother’s Reckoning, an unedited Sue answers with absolute honesty and compassion the question that has been haunting her for years: Where did I go wrong?