Author: Nayomi Munaweera
Publication Information: St. Martin's Press. 2014. 256 pages.
ISBN: 125004393X / 978-1250043931
Book Source: I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.
Favorite Quote: "Sometimes I get this breathless feeling that the war is a living creature, something huge with a pointed tongue and wicked claws. When the tanks rumble past in the far fields, I feel it breathe; when the air strikes start and the blood flows, I feel it lick its lips. I've grown up inside this war, so now I can't imagine what it would be like to live outside it."
Sri Lanka is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean off the coast of India. Geographically, Sri Lanka is only about 25,000 square miles - a little bit larger than the state of West Virginia; its population in about 20 million people - about the population of the state of New York.
The biggest ethnic population in Sri Lanka is the Sinahala. The largest minority is the Tamil. According to legend, the Sinhala claim to be descendants from the earliest settlers of Sri Lanka. The Tamil claim an equally long history in Sri Lanka. The two groups are divided religiously and ethnically.
Sri Lanka became an independent nation in 1948 with the departure of the British control from the Indian subcontinent. Since that time, the relations between the Sinhala and the Tamil have been strained. Riots have occurred throughout the nation's short history, with the Tamil working for an independent homeland and the Sinhala working to keep government control.
In 1983, the country went into Civil War - the government and army representing the Sinhala, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the Tamil Tigers) representing the Tamil nationalist interests. The conflict continued for over 25 years until the Sri Lankan army defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Over 25 years of civil war! Over 80,000 people dead!
Island of a Thousand Mirrors paints a hauntingly vivid picture of this civil war. Told through the eyes of two young girls caught on opposite sides of the conflict, the book creates a personal story of war, destruction, and loss. The beautifully constructed narrative takes the reader into the hearts and the minds of these young women and the heartbreaking realities they face.
Through the eyes of these young women, we learn of the war. We also learn a lot about Sri Lanka - the lush tropical environment, education, arranged vs. love marriages, economy, food, and such. The destruction of these becomes yet another victim of the war.
This book does not shy away from any of the atrocities of war. It does not present one side as right or wrong. It does not present the political impact but rather the human impact of the war. It presents the victims on all sides:
Suicide bombers - "What could have led her to this singularly terrible end? What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself? Just moments earlier she had been just another nameless woman in the teeming crowd; now, blown to bits, she was either martyr or mass murderer, according to one's taste. Either way she had attained instant immortality. but what had led her to that moment?"
Families destroyed - "The sound of pure and absolute anguish breaking out from each of us who has paid a price to the demons of war. A sounds forged in the lungs of the mothers whose sons have died unnamed in the fields, the fathers whose daughters have gone to fight."
People who fled the war trying to explain the war to people in their new adopted homeland - "I try to explain. There are no martyrs here, It is a war between equally corrupt forces. I see their eyes glaze over. I realize they do not desire a complicated answer. They wanted clear distinctions between the cowboys and the Indians, the corrupt administration and the valiant freedom fighters, the democratic government and the raging terrorists. They want moral certainty, a thing I cannot give them."
Yet, at the end of it all, the book ends on a note of hope. The losses are incalculable and inconsolable. Yet, hope remains. "When my weeping is spent, when I have no more sorrow to give, I shall celebrate peace. I shall wake up from these long decades of war and begin to see what we can do in peace, what sort of creatures we are when the mask of lion or tiger falls from us."
The book is about the Sri Lankan conflict, but the emotions captured to vividly can be applied to the conflicts in the headlines these days. The author's words are truly universal. I know that the book, the story, the characters, and the narrative itself will haunt me for a long time to come.