Title: Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Author: Nayomi Munaweera
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Yasodhara has a happy childhood growing up in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She’s barely aware of the conflict between the Tamil and Sinhala people, but that tension is rising more and more. As the situation escalates, Yasodhara and her family are swept into the political events surrounding them. Saraswathie, on the other hand, has always had a life touched by war. Her brothers have given their lives for it, though her parents are hopeful that their daughters will be spared. But irrevocable events lead to Saraswathie’s involvement in the war, and both Yasodhara’s and Saraswathie’s lives are set on a collision course that will have drastic consequences.
A gorgeously written novel about two young women affected in very different ways by the Sri Lankan civil war, Island of a Thousand Mirrors tells difficult stories without being too heavy. Readers who enjoy cultural fiction shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this illuminating book.
Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a novel set in the events leading up to and in the middle of the Sri Lankan civil war. However, this isn’t a war novel. It’s a book about the people the war effects, two young women caught in the middle of events that will shape their lives and change who they are.
The novel has two main characters, both Sri Lankan young women, but that’s where the similarities between Yasodhara and Saraswathie end. They should both be carefree young women, learning who they are and what they want out of life, but neither has that luxury. The civil war has affected both of them in ways they are very much aware of, but also in ways they can’t realize. For Yasodhara, it’s more distant, a sense that she is uncertain in her own skin. She doesn’t quite fit anywhere and doesn’t know what she wants. The events of her homeland have left a lingering sense of unease stamped on her skin that she can’t evade, no matter how hard she tries. For Saraswathie, the consequences of the war are much more present and direct. Her brothers are dead, and she is brutalized in ways she can’t conceive of. Both these stories are heartbreaking, and readers will come to know each of these characters intimately.
Munaweera’s prose is spare in Island of a Thousand Mirrors. This is a slip of a book telling a huge story, so the author makes every word count. She plunges the reader into the story without much explanation, and for readers wanting a detailed account of the Sri Lankan civil war, this book may not satisfy. The events of the war are told much more through moods and atmosphere than they are through the narration of individual events. It’s an incredible way to tell a story, and an emotionally resonant one, as the reader feels the events of this book imprinted on their very soul, rather than through the brain processing the words on the page.
If you enjoy cultural reads, then Island of a Thousand Mirrors should be at the top of your list. Despite the heavy subject matter, this is not a depressing book. Instead, it’s a novel about finding yourself, and how war affects all of us in ways we cannot see or imagine. This is about the people who survive, but are still victims in their own ways. It’s beautifully done, and is a surprisingly quick read. Book clubs who enjoy cultural reads should definitely add this book to their list.