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
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 256 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Having accomplished this feat with no more than the usual traumas, she grows up in a large white house in Wellawatte, one of the more distinguished neighborhoods of Colombo. Separated from the ocean only by the railroad tracks, and a short but dignified distance away from the Wellawatte vegetable market, the house is ruled by Visaka's father, the Judge, who, Oxford returned, insists upon a painful formalism learned in undergraduate days when he was made to feel the unbearable shame of brownness. In tribute to those frigid days, ankles are crossed, accents carefully monitored, pinkie fingers trained to point away from teacups. The family eats puddings and soups, beefsteaks and muttonchops, boiled potatoes, orange- and crimson-tinted sandwiches. They take tea at five, with sugar and milk, choose pastries off a multilayered silver tray. In December, there is Christmas cake, fruitcake, cheesecake. The dressmaker comes monthly. Visaka is chauffeured to school in her father's car and picked up at the gate after. On Tuesdays, she has elocution lessons and on Fridays she practices Bach and Beethoven for two hours on the baby grand piano.

Yet the heart of the house is an interior courtyard, built in the days of the Portuguese, who liked to keep their women sequestered in these interior gardens, full of spilling foliage, birdcall, and monkey chatter. Annoyed by this exuberance and lack of order, the Judge sends the gardener to rip and uproot. But days after these attacks, the mutilated branches send forth vines to once again wind into the embrace of the wrought iron balcony. Birds return once again to build nests in the outstretched arms of the trees. The queen of this domain, an enormous trailing jasmine, impervious to pruning, spreads a fragrant carpet of white. When the sea breeze whispers, a snowy flurry of flowers sweeps into the house so that Visaka's earliest and most tender memory is the combined scent of jasmine and sea salt.

It is into this pulsing, green space that she escapes after the boiled beef and vegetables. It is here she plays her childhood games, befriended at a distance by the birds, the geckos and squirrels. She says of her variously prim and jungled childhood, "It was like growing up in a garden of Eden in the middle of coldhearted England."


A photograph from this time witnesses the whole family suited and saried on the front lawn, Colombo heat perceptible only in the snaking tendrils that cling to the women's cheeks and necks. Our mother is flanked by her two much older sisters, each beautiful in an entirely different way. One, round-faced and dark like a plump fig, succulent. The other tall, slim, and elegant, calling to mind something lunar.

Our mother, a sapling next to these hot house beauties, poses on the edge of an ebony chair. A serious, spectacled schoolgirl in long braids and a stiff, ironed uniform, she is caught in a blur as if about to run off. Her formidable mother, Sylvia Sunethra, wears a sari in the old Victorian way, all ruffled sleeves, starch, and ramrod straight posture, her hand on the girl's shoulder holding her down. Behind them all, her handsome brother, Ananda, debonair in a three- piece suit. In the chair sits the Judge, who despite his profound baldness looks too young to be the father of these grown children.

The photograph gives no forewarning. Yet it captures the end of my mother's childhood, because if we enter with the certainty of history into the secret, red passageways leading to my grandfather's heart, we see lurking within his tissue- thin arteries an amoeba- shaped blood clot that will lead him to sit up in bed six months later, clutching at his chest. He will not die of this first stroke, but some years later under the assault of successive ones and in the midst of his house- building obsession.

It is around the time of this photograph that our mother remembers the coming of Alice. Male relatives from the Judge's ancestral village squat on the verandah waiting for the Judge. With them, a woman, face obscured behind her sari pallu. Our mother remembers the outline of a large, fair- skinned face, round as the full moon, long, she- deer eyelashes. And over the left shoulder, stretching the cheap cloth of the sari blouse, an enormous, quivering hump. "This is Alice Nona," the men say and meticulously retrace the capillaries of familial blood that make her "our people."

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

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

N Say N

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.