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Book Jacket
Island of a Thousand Mirrors
A stunning literary debut set during the Sri Lankan Civil War
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Excerpt
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Author Biography

Questions for the Author....

Created: 09/18/14

Replies: 10

Posted Sep. 18, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1318

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Nayomi Munaweera answers questions about Island of a Thousand Mirrors

In September 2014, Nayomi Munaweera kindly joined us to answer questions about her debut, Island of a Thousand Mirrors. Read on for the Q&A....


Posted Sep. 18, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
lynneb

Join Date: 08/23/11

Posts: 70

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How much of the story is based on actual events that you or other family members witnessed. Were any of the story's characters real people?

The book is fiction, but as with much fiction, parts of it are based on real events in history. There was of course a long and brutal war in Sri Lanka that went on from 1983 to 2009. The timeline of the war acts as a skeleton to the plot of the book. There were these pivotal moments in history that I tried to capture in the book - the race riots of 1983 which were the precipitating event for the thirty years of war is the most clear example of this.

As for myself, I did experience some of violence but at a very removed distance. I did hear family stories etc about it when we went back to Sri Lanka every year. What I most remember is the sense of anxiety, for example, when driving at night. You could be stopped at any point by soldiers with guns. Once on the hour long drive from the airport to my aunt’s house we were stopped 8 times by soldiers at check-points. Of course we had American passports and so we were not in real danger but the sense of threat and anxiety was always there.


Posted Sep. 19, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jwbriggs13

Join Date: 05/09/12

Posts: 33

The story is so powerfully real. Has the situation in Sri Lanka improved? Are the Sinhala and Tamil peoples able to co-exist? When you watch the news, are you struck by how true and how worldwide your story is? If so, please share an example

The situation in Sri Lanka is extremely complex. The question of whether things are better or not would be answered differently according to who you are asking. There is a tremendous economic boom which is very important for any country especially one trying to recover from 30 years of war. At the same time, both sides have been rightly accused of war crimes and this amount of trauma would be difficult for any country to overcome quickly. I do think stories and the telling of stories are an important part of healing. Telling stories, hearing stories is how we come to see each other's humanity.

I do believe that this is a universal story. There are examples all around us. Rwanda of course. The stories of the genocide there strike very close to my heart. Also the bloodshed in Nigeria during the Biafran war which Chimamanda Ngochi Adiechie wrote so well about in her amazing Half of a Yellow Sun.


Posted Sep. 19, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
djn

Join Date: 05/19/11

Posts: 82

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Explain the title for us

The idea of mirrors came to me when I realized that civil war is a state of fighting the self. The "enemy" is known to you, so close, they could be a mirror image. Also there are various passages in the book that refer to fish as silver and shining like mirrors. One in the early part of the book, one in a later section. This title is the result of fierce debate between myself, the publishers and many other people. For three months we had no title. I generated a list of 80, yes - 80 titles. This title was the closest to the heart of the book.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 20

Do you know how the 2004 tsunami impacted the Civil War?

It seemed such an unfair thing for those of us watching from afar to see Sri Lanka battered by nature even as it was dealing with the cruelties of man upon man. I wasn't there so I can only tell you of the stories I heard second-hand. Some of these claimed that for the first time the Tigers and the Army were banding together to help people. Other stories were darker and said that certain groups had cut off supplies to the enemy. I did not really look too closely at it. I couldn't wrap my head or heart around such further devastation. What we did do from the West was collect as much supplies as we could and send them back there hoping they would find their ways to those most in need.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
AntoinetteC

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 20

What message(s) would you like the reader to take away from the book?

That war is terrible. That really, love is the only answer to almost every question.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JuliaB

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

What is your opinion of arranged marriages and of love marriages? Do you consider one better than the other? Do you have personal experience with arranged marriages?

This is a funny and interesting question! I’ve seen both arranged and love marriages in my family and it's never possible to predict which ones end up happy and which ones don't. Some of the love marriages that the couple fought for passionately (against disapproving parents and community) have turned out badly, while some of my happiest aunts and uncles are those who have had arranged marriages. So it's really impossible to tell.

Modern dating is very much like the arranged marriage system in that you plug in your info into a dating site and the computer tells you who might be a good match. This is the role that the aunties and the matchmaker used to occupy. Personally I would never consider the idea of an arranged marriage. I'm far too Westernized to trust anyone else with my romantic fate. I prefer to make my mistakes and my triumphs in love without the arbitration of either a computer or the network of aunties.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JuliaB

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 12

There's a lot of focus on food and art in the book. Was it a conscious decision to focus on these two aspects of Sri Lankan culture throughout?

Sri Lankan food is amazing! I really do mean this. I might sound biased but ask anyone who has had it and they will tell you the same. If you can, find a Lankan restaurant near you and go and see for yourself. I wrote about this food because I love it, because it is the strongest link that an immigrant has to memory and home.

In an earlier life I painted and drew much more than I do now. It is something I love. I do think the decision to include art was much less conscious that the decision to include food in the book.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
SarahD451

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 14

Does writing come easy or was it a struggle to complete the book? How long did you work on it before it was accepted by a publisher?

I don't think many novels are born of ease. As a novelist you have to think of yourself as a marathon runner. For me, it's a very difficult, arduous process. My first drafts look terrible, like the incoherent ramblings of a crazy person. First I throw everything I can on the page until I have about 300-350 pages. Then the work is to shift and shape and create the most alive and beautiful thing you can out of that terrible mess. I started writing this book in 2001. The book was submitted for publication in America in 2009. Every single publishing house it was presented to said no. I never thought it'd see the light of day so I started writing another. Finally a tiny publishing house in Sri Lanka said yes and that's how the book came to be first published in 2013. None of it was easy, the writing or the publication path. But I think that's just par for the course in this particular profession. Luck, determination, dedication to the work, these are the required tools.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
SarahD451

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 14

Where do you currently live, and if it's not Sri Lanka, how often do you travel there? Where does your family live?

I currently live in Oakland, California. My family lives in Los Angeles. I grew up going to Sri Lanka for a month every year even through we lived in Nigeria and then in Los Angeles. Before the book was published I had not been to Sri Lanka in 9 years and then in 2013 I went back there for the launch of the book. I'm going back this November. It’s nice now to go back as a writer, it means that I feel far less a tourist.


Posted Sep. 21, 2014 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 279

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What's next for you?

I'm currently editing my second book. It too will be published by St Martin's Press. I can’t talk about it much as it's still gestating and quickening, but I do hope readers will pick it up when it's out!


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