Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Nayomi Munaweera’s is a beautifully written book on the Sri Lankan civil war. It was really interesting to read about characters and quirks that I have learnt are more pan-subcontinental that I’ve been led to believe. From the cantankerous Beatrice Muriel to the indomitable Sylvia Sunethra to the upstairs neighbours the Shivalingams, the family antics are hilariously familiar.
The sway in Mala’s waist, the curve of her hip beneath the folds of her sari, have caught the eye of many young men, each of whom is secretly willing to denounce the colonial prejudice of skin colour by falling in love with her.”– Munaweera’s observations are spot on!
But, this isn’t a happy book, as is apparent soon enough when the simmering Tamil-Sinhala tensions come to a head in the brutal civil war, and Munaweera minces no words in describing the horror.
Unfortunately, the change in tone from the idyllic world to the frantic one is too jarring. The lyrical prose begins to feel tedious, the later characters in this generational story become stock figures in a war drama rather than having the keenly observed personalities of their ancestors, and soon enough we are saddled with a hackneyed immigrant story. It was at this point that I looked up whether the author had lived in Sri Lanka and wasn’t surprised to learn that she had moved out of the country with her family just before the civil unrest started, when she was 3. While it’s possible to write about other people’s experiences, in this particular narration, it felt contrived and to me, even inauthentic.
Interestingly, I have of course heard of the Sri Lankan civil war, but from the Indian perspective. The Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, lent Indian aid to the Sri Lankan government to help them defeat the Tamil Tigers, and for the favour, when the PM was visiting Tamil Nadu (India), a woman bent down to touch his feet to get his blessings and blew him up instead. It isn’t necessary to mention India in a Sri Lankan story of course, but it provides the key piece of information that explains what changed in a years-long deadlock and is a reminder that conflict rarely ends at a country’s borders.
My other quibble with this book is that while it did start off by showing us “both sides”, it ended up feeling very much like the Sinhalese perspective on the war. If history is written by the victors, then so is historical fiction. To me, this book that declared moral corruption of both sides of the war, equated the Tamil minority, some of whom were radicalized into a cessionist terrorist organization with a clearly discriminatory society where the might of the national army was used by a government that seems to have grossly failed in protecting the rights of its own citizens to quell a violent uprising without critiquing the role of the powerful in driving the powerless into picking up guns in the first place.
The next book on my list is On Sal Mal Lane, written by a Sri Lankan native. I’m curious to see if a first-hand account is different. I still did enjoy reading Island of a Thousand Mirrors and would recommend it, especially for its poetic descriptions of life in Sri Lanka before the war.
Read it if you like generational or political stories like…
Who didn’t binge watch the disturbing Netflix series You? I did, and decided to read the book that it was based on. I assure you that the book is far more disturbing and rape-y than the Netflix series. While the series paints Joe in shades of grey, he’s the creepy stalker that you sometimes sympathize with and even *gasp* think of as a nice guy occasionally, the book leaves you in no such quandary. Joe is awful through and through and reading You is rather like reading Lolita: it makes you extremely uncomfortable as it describes the twisted mind of its anti-hero.
Read it if you like stories about disturbed people like:
Miss Marple returns! According to Jason Rafiel’s (from A Caribbean Mystery) will, Miss Marple must be contacted and a quest must be proposed to her. All she knows about this quest is that old querulous Mr. Rafiel has “made some arrangements” and the facts will be revealed to her when the time is right.
Usually Christie’s mysteries start with the murder, but the unusual twist here was that Miss Marple had to discover the murder first before unveiling the murderer. The fluffy little old lady proves yet again that she’s sharp as a razor and tough as nails! I’m a huge fan of Christie’s and this book did not disappoint me.
Read it if you like puzzlers, quests or detectives in books like:
Imagine you moved to a new country that you’ve never visited, you take a wrong turn and end up at the perfect house that you want to buy. You instantly know that it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for. You buy the house and the workmen start fixing it up. You sleep in the smaller bedroom and dream that it could be a nursery with a distinct wallpaper pattern. You think there ought to be a door that opens out to the garden. The workmen manage to pry open a cupboard sealed shut in your room and lo and behold, it’s the wallpaper pattern you dreamed up! You point them to where you’d like the new door to be… except under the plaster they find a door in the exact same spot! What’s going on? Are you going crazy?
In a book that is one of Christie’s best murder set-ups to date, Sleeping Murder keeps you on your toes until the very end.
Read it for the atmosphere and if you like other books like:
The City of Ember
I can’t possibly write an unbiased review of The City of Ember because of a technical difficulty that goes something like this: I was devouring the book. The story kept building suspense and I kept waiting for an explanation. I was racing through the pages when suddenly my Kindle gave me a pop-up to buy the next book in the series. Confused, I went back to re-read the last page and pressed forward again and there was that pop-up again! “Please rate this book and buy the next one”. What?!
That’s it. The book had ended on an annoying cliffhanger.
I hate it when this happens. I prefer books that are both self-contained and part of a larger picture (think Harry Potter), but mostly I think I was so furious because I was reading this on my Kindle instead of as a physical book, and having turned off the percent-read feature on the Kindle, I had no clue how close I was to the end, which would of course never happen with a book. Argh.
The City of Ember itself was quite an interesting book. It starts with a builder, who, having built some sort quarantined city (very reminiscent of the Divergent trilogy) has to leave instructions for the city-dwellers on how to leave after two hundred years, but not before. He decides to tell the mayor and only the mayor, with each mayor promising to pass on the secret to each subsequent one until the time comes. Of course, things go wrong and a terminally ill mayor thinks the secret could be a cure for his illness and failing to break into the time-locked canister, dies without passing on the secret to his successor. And so two hundred years later the city is decaying with its inhabitants trapped inside with nowhere else to go and no knowledge of the fact that there could even be an anywhere else!