One of my resolutions this year, is to read a book related to every new country that I visit. It could be fiction or non-fiction, but the idea is to understand the country and its culture a little better, beyond the regular sightseeing I did during my visit, and also carry a little bit of the country with me.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors follows the story of two girls growing up in the shadow of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Yashodhara is part of a large well-to-do Sinhala family living an idyllic life in Colombo. Saraswathi, introduced halfway down the novel, is a Tamil girl trying to fulfill her dream of being a teacher amidst a harsh existence in an active war zone.
“Farther out beyond the reef, where the coral gives way to the true deep, at a certain time of day a tribe of flat silver fish gather in their thousands. To be there is to be surrounded by living shards of light. At a secret signal, all is chaos, a thousand mirrors shattering about him.”
The book is lyrical and evocative, with Yashodhara’s story bringing the island nation’s many charms to life. Until the war hits, her life is simple, and reminded me of my childhood summer vacations, amidst my extended family. War changes the course of life for her and her family. Saraswathi, on the other hand, has always had it tough, but it only gets tougher for her. Munaweera has the characters go through harshness and do some unforgiveable things, but she retains a tenderness and care for her characters. Her prose is simple yet descriptive, and was the highlight of the book for me. We Indians are so near, yet so far, from what Sri Lanka is and was, and this book helped bring it a bit closer to me.