Before violence tore apart the tapestry of Sri Lanka and turned its pristine beaches red, there were two families. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara's and her siblings' lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents' ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between Tamil and Sinhala people; but the peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara's family escapes to Los Angeles. But Yasodhara's life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl's…
Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways.
Nayomi Munaweera's Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an emotionally resonant saga of cultural heritage, heartbreaking conflict and deep family bonds. Narrated in two unforgettably authentic voices and spanning the entirety of the decades-long civil war, it offers an unparalleled portrait of a beautiful land during its most difficult moment by a spellbinding new literary talent who promises tremendous things to come.
The paradisiacal landscapes of Sri Lanka are as astonishing as the barbarity of its revolution, and Munaweera evokes the power of both in a lyrical debut novel worthy of shelving alongside her countryman Michael Ondaatje or her fellow writer of the multigenerational immigrant experience Jhumpa Lahiri. Munaweera's modern-day protagonist, Yasodhara Rajasinghe, recounts her Singhala grandparents' origins what she calls "one possible narrative of my island." To show how different those narratives can be and how frequently they intertwine as Munaweera writes, this is a "war that will be waged between related beasts" she also tells the stories of the Tamil boy who goes on to fight in the revolution and a young girl who will be driven by violence to martyr herself to it. But not all episodes in the story are violent: in the 1950s, Yasodhara's mother's family shares their Colombo home with the Tamil Shivalingham clan, and, even as the two families wage catty upstairs-downstairs battles, a steadfast love grows up between them. Munaweera's prose teems with delicious descriptions of food (coconut flesh "gelatinous as egg white, creamy as ice cream," avocados mashed with condensed milk, pumpkin curry) and flora (gardens where there are "orchids spilling from trees to brush our faces, ferns uncurling tenderly, bird chatter, and the unbroken line of coconut trees"). The book leaves the reader with two lingering smells that perfectly capture the conflict that nearly destroyed Munaweera's home country: gasoline and jasmine.
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Compelling. Beautifully written. Could visualize the beauty of her scenes and characters.