Excerpt from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Island of a Thousand Mirrors

by Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera X
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 224 pages
    Jan 2016, 256 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

There are the usual hours of sweat- drenched, pushing, ripping pain before a tiny creature slips forth. A boy! The gods have been benevolent! But wait, Beatrice Muriel on her childhood bed is still sweating, still straining and pushing. With a final effort, a great gush of red, another child slips headfirst from salt water into the wide, airy world. The women submerge the child in the waiting basin of water, hoping to reveal some lighter, more appropriately golden skin tone. The water turns hue, but the baby does not, and Beatrice Muriel, taking in the pair, one eggplant hued and the other milk- tea fair, cries, "If only it had been the boy who was so dark! This black- black girl! We will never get her married." To which her mother joins, "A darkie granddaughter. Such a shade we have never had in our family. Must be from the father's side!" There, revealed for all to see, on the skin of this girl, the stain of low- caste origins. Beatrice Muriel, torn and exhausted from birthing, hangs her head in shame.

Because by this time what had not been known before the nuptials has since been revealed. Namely, that sometime in the years before seeking out matrimony, the Doctor had paid a visit to the local registrar's office, where he had worked a sort of alchemy. A handsome bribe to replace his family name, Aposinghe, with its fishy associations and marketplace odors, for the princely sounding Rajasinghe. In this way the Doctor, like so many low- caste persons, had escaped the limitations of fate to win both medical training and wife.

The back room of the house is the Doctor's dispensary. On the walls, dusty emerald bottles display their variously oily or transparent contents. On the verandah, patients gather each morning. They are fishermen and farmers who often pay in kind. A large thora fish for the health of a child, a pound of paddy rice for an ointment to ease a grandmother's arthritic knees. The Doctor is dedicated to this motley group of patients, but lacks further ambition and is most satisfied walking the beach with his children.

Often Beatrice Muriel finds him in conversation with fishermen, toddy tappers, servants, sometimes even the Tamil coolie who comes to empty the latrine buckets each dawn. When she sees him talking to this blackened djinn who smells of shit and carries the stiff- bristled broom with which he performs his inauspicious duties, it takes all her willpower to walk past them, her stiffly held head eloquent in its disapproval.

She has been brought up with definite ideas about the value of each thing and person, its significance and appropriate place on a strict hierarchy. She is unable to tolerate this laxity, her husband's inability or indeed conscious decision not to treat each person according to ancient laws. Her anger takes aim for her husband's head through her children's ears.

"In my father's day, those people kept out of sight. If one of them had come into the village spreading misfortune and bad smells everywhere, he would have been beaten with his shitty broom. This is your father's fault. Talking to these people. Treating them like every other person. If it were up to him, you know what you all would be doing?" Big- eyed children attempt to imagine. "You would be gathering up shit with that one. Would you like that? Going door to door in the morning emptying out the buckets of kakka with your hands and a small broom?" Children shaking their heads emphatically. No, they would definitely not like that.

To counter her husband's carelessness, Beatrice Muriel buys thora fi sh. She boils it slowly and then pours the water on the thirsty earth of the front yard. She sets the dish in front of her family with great festivity. "Now they will know what kind of people we are." Outside, the pungent odor rises. Passersby inhale with distended nostrils and know that the family has feasted on the most expensive sea fish.

Excerpted from Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. Copyright © 2014 by Nayomi Munaweera. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Sri Lankan Civil War

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel
    Kristin Harmel's historical novel The Forest of Vanishing Stars was very well-received by our First ...
  • Book Jacket: African Europeans
    African Europeans
    by Olivette Otele
    The nexus of Africans and Europeans is not a recent historical development. Rather, the peoples of ...
  • Book Jacket: The Killing Hills
    The Killing Hills
    by Chris Offutt
    The personified hills of the novel's title foreshadow the mood of this brooding and ominous tale. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Vixen
    The Vixen
    by Francine Prose
    Recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam has been rejected from grad school and has thus returned to his...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
A Southern story of friendship forged by books and bees, in the murky shadows of World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel

    An evocative coming-of-age World War II story from the author of The Book of Lost Names.

  • Book Jacket

    The Temple House Vanishing
    by Rachel Donohue

    A modern gothic page-turner set in a Victorian mansion in Ireland.

Win This Book!
Win Gordo

Gordo by Jaime Cortez

"Dark and hilarious ... singular and soaring ... Hands down, top debut of 2021."—Literary Hub



Solve this clue:

N Say N

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.