The subject was known to me very well (no Sri Lankan will ever not know this particular subject) and though handled through not just books but through the media umpteen times, not one we get tired of because there are so many aspects and variations to this story that each one is unique. Rohini Mohan has taken this subject, albeit a difficult one and handled it delicately, sensitively and at the same time its an in your face of all the facts as it happened.
The story deals with the civil war which lasted for three decades and its effects on Sri Lankans. However it deals in this book with particular characters and its effect on them individually. Both are Tamils and so the war looks at it from the perspective of only one race and not both. The Singhalese are seen as the aggressors and the judge and jury. The Tamils are the victims here. I do not personally think that is quite the way it should be but that is another story.
Sarva is a young man of Tamil ancestry. He is from the highlands of Sri Lanka and his story is a painful though common one. Taken in for brutal questioning which involves a great deal of torture, the boy and his family comes out of the episode hating the Singhalese and just wanting to get out of the country. He succeeds after a great deal of trouble, involving his family particularly his mother who never gives up (what mothers have done for centuries), and finds his way to Cardiff eventually.
The story of Mughil is a very interesting one. She was a cadre in the feared LTTE army. At the very end of the war, she realizes that she is on a losing wicket. She gives up all pretense of being a member of the LTTE and goes back to her village and her family. Detailing the last stages of the war which were horrific from a refugees point of view,( this was the first time I read of it from an individual's angle) Mughil and her two young sons along with her sister and family, her mother and father live in appalling conditions both on the run and in the Government run camp which is more or less an open prison. Mughil's instinct for survival is very strong and she is more determined than ever that her two sons will survive and prosper. That they will be educated and not even think of a war and anything that is war related. How she achieves this and reconciles with a husband whom she hasn't seen or heard of for years, gets back to civilian life and then eventually gets arrested as being a former cadre is heartbreaking. All she wants is to be is a a "normal young woman:". She never achieved that and that was very difficult for me to accept.
I liked the detailing of everyday life - both in prison, in the camps and then back in civilian life under a military regime. It seemed so far removed from my own life - living just 200 kms away it seems like another world. Makes me appreciate the life I've had in Sri Lanka despite the war going on. It also shows how one can grow a skin of a kind of indifference to that which is happening so close to one and yet so far.
The book is I think of special interest to Sri Lankans. I do not know whether the same appeal and interest would be there with others. You have to live through a conflict like this to understand the nuances of this story and I liked the book very, very much. Painting the Singhalese as villains is not something I appreciated but that is that. There are always faults on either side. No one is ever literally so clean that they can point the finger at others.
This was a download from Netgalley courtesy of Verso Books (US).