By Gabe Meline
Nayomi Munaweera’s family fled war-torn Sri Lanka when she was just three—first to Nigeria, and then, in 1984, to Los Angeles. But the civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamils stayed with her, and serves as the backdrop for her excellent debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors. Narrated by two different characters, Saraswathie and Yasodhara (one girl Tamil, the other Sinhalese), the story is a compelling, beautifully written meditation of the impact of war.
Munaweera describes Sri Lanka’s culture of war with vivid detail, partially the result of memories shared by her family. As Dani Burlison writes in the Los Angeles Review: “Even the scenes of horror—and there are relatively few—are written in such a poetic voice that instead of closing the cover and walking away, the reader wants to dive deeper in discovering what other horrible beauty lies ahead for the young women of Sri Lanka.”
Munaweera had almost given up on the book when it got picked up by a publisher in Sri Lanka, through a friend of a friend, in 2012. After being long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and winning the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize for the Asian Region, Island of a Thousand Mirrors finally saw publication in the U.S. two weeks ago through St. Martin’s Press.