Island of a Thousand Mirrors
How much do you know about Sri Lanka? If you’re like me, you might admit you know little to nothing about the small island south of India. The phrase “Tamil Tigers” comes up in my mind, but I only know them as part of the military, and that there were serious conflicts in the country in recent years. And the amount of books I’ve read that are set in Sri Lanka are close to zero. Nayomi Munaweera has written a compelling novel set in Sri Lanka entitled Island of a Thousand Mirrors.
The novel’s narrator is Yasodhara, a young girl who grows up in Sri Lanka amid the growing tension between the Tamils, who are Hindus, and the Sinhalese, who are Buddhists. Yasodhara and her younger sister, Lanka, are Sinhalese, but their upstairs neighbor and best friend, Shiva, is Tamil. Yasodhara narrates a story that started well before she was born, looking into the ongoing strife between the family dynamics that make up the next generation.
The narrative starts with Yasodhara telling the story of her parents as they mature and later marry. It is reminiscent of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children where the protagonist Saleem Sinai also narrates the events that happened well before his existence, finally joining the story in the middle. In the same vein, Yasodhara finally joins the story and takes up her place growing up on the island among a large array of characters. But then conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese breaks out, and her family moves to California. The girls grow up and return to Sri Lanka, and find people they thought they had lost.
It was a gripping read and it kept me interested to the end. However, my only criticism is that there were many places where the story jumped ahead. I felt the story could have been much longer and I would have happily followed the narrator along.
Nonetheless, it was an amazing novel that has personally sparked in me the need to do more research about Sri Lanka and understanding the political situation there that I must confess I haven’t paid attention to in the headlines. I’m glad there are novels like this that can remind me that I know so little on the international scale, and I should work harder to educate myself.