Nayomi Munaweera’s Compelling Meditation on War-Torn Sri Lanka

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.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors Cover

2 thoughts on “Nayomi Munaweera’s Compelling Meditation on War-Torn Sri Lanka”

  1. This book is so beautiful and rare and speaks of loss and redemption and hope. You must have a hanky or tissue to staunch the tearing eyes but it is truly an amazing book. Very wonderful. The part that most brought tears was the scene of a wake and a mirror was mentioned and it was said that if the spirit of the dead person saw himself he would want to stay. The narrator says it wouldn’t be the Sight of himself in the mirror but the sound of his widow’s heartbreaking crying that stop his soul from leaving on its journey. The kind of book you want to read over and over, mark passages, fold pages, read again, come back to. A very remarkable book.

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