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Summary and book reviews of Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand Mirrors

by Nayomi Munaweera

Island of a Thousand Mirrors
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A stunning literary debut of two young women on opposing sides of the devastating Sri Lankan Civil War—winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for Asia, longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize

Before violence tore apart the tapestry of Sri Lanka and turned its pristine beaches red, there were two families. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara's and her siblings' lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents' ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between the Tamil and Sinhala people—but this peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara's family escapes to Los Angeles. But Yasodhara's life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl's…

Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways.

In the tradition of Michael Ondatjee's Anil's Ghost and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an emotionally resonant saga of cultural heritage, heartbreaking conflict and deep family bonds. Narrated in two unforgettably authentic voices and spanning the entirety of the decades-long civil war, it offers an unparalleled portrait of a beautiful land during its most difficult moment by a spellbinding new literary talent who promises tremendous things to come.

One

It is 1948 and the last British ships slip away from the island of Ceylon, laboring and groaning under the weight of purloined treasure. On board one such vessel, the captain's log includes the tusks and legs of elephant herds; rubies, emeralds, topaz; fragrant mountains of cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seeds; forests of bony, teak, and sandalwood; screeching peacocks; caged and pacing leopards; ten- foot- long monitor lizards whipping their razor tails; barrels of fermented coconut toddy; the jewel- encrusted thrones of Kandyan kings; the weapons of Chola warriors; priceless texts in Pali and Sanskrit, Sinhala and Tamil.

At the foam- drenched stern, a blue- eyed, walnut- burnt sahib searches for the vanishing island and says to his pale young wife, "A shame, really. Such a nice little place."

And she, only recently having left Manchester for the colony and now returning in triumph, a husband successfully hunted and captured, says, "But so hot! And the mosquitoes! It ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About the Book
Before violence tore apart the tapestry of Sri Lanka and turned its pristine beaches red, there were two families. Yasodhara tells the story of her own Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara's and her siblings' lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents' ambitions, teenage love and, subtly, the differences between Tamil and Sinhala people; but the peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara's family escapes to Los Angeles. But Yasodhara's life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl's...

Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Island of a Thousand Mirrors. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Choice and free will
The poor girl was a walking dead woman. Innocence stolen, culturally shunned, she virtually delivered to the revolutionaries. Her family urged her, unbeknownst how deeply wounded she was, so very heartbreaking. Harboring so much hate for the enemy ... - mal

Could Yasodhara's transition from life in Sri Lanka to California have been made easier?
I don't believe their transition could have been easier. I do believe there was a fine line between continuing their cultural expectations and being 'more' American. Seems to be more a family issue requiring dialog. The sisters had it made compared ... - mal

Did the book make you interested in finding out more about Sri Lankan cuisine?
Yes, every time I read a book that has characters who eat foods from different countries (or even different parts of the US) I am intrigued. I collect cookbooks and have many that feature foods from other areas. The way people eat and how they view ... - Beth350

Did the familial term Thatha (grandfather) contribute to your understanding of the family in Los Angeles?
Familiar with the term from previous cultural reads. Did help in understanding. - mal

Did your reading of the Prologue change after you finished reading the book?
The prologue was appreciated MORE after the book was finished. Powerful to start with but more powerful later. - mal

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Munaweera's writing is exquisite…She presents vividly the breathtaking beauty found in Sri Lankan nature and the heart-wrenching joys and sorrows found in human relationships. Matter-of-factly interspersed are intense, brutal, numbing depictions of the unnatural and inhuman actions of civilian warriors…I look forward to more of her work.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Forbes (India)

Brimming with vivid imagery: Lyrical and languid in its beauty, brutal and merciless in its violence. You are left with visions of a beautiful, tranquil island shredded with unspeakable terror and loss.

Author Blurb NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names
By turns tender, beautiful, and devastating, Island of A Thousand Mirrors is a deeply resonant tale of an unravelling Sri Lanka. Incredibly moving, complex, and with prose you may want to eat, this debut is a triumph.

Author Blurb Alan Brennert, author of Molokai and Palisades Park
Exquisitely written and beautifully evocative of an exotic place and bygone age.

Author Blurb Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander
In Island of a Thousand Mirrors, Nayomi Munaweera writes with ferocity, fire and poetry of the incomprehensible madness of civil war and its effects upon those caught within it, whether in the villages and cities of Sri Lanka, or half a world away. A masterful, incendiary debut.

Reader Reviews

Rebecca

Unique and Special
I like books that tell a story that is not a formula. It always seems to add something special when there is an historic element. At times I had trouble keeping track of who all the characters are, so I found myself creating a character list at the...   Read More

Jill

Takes you to another time and place
I wasn't sure what I would think of this book when I started it, war stories aren't my favorite. I also found it difficult to keep all of the characters straight. However, once I got past the first few chapters none of that mattered. This book is...   Read More

asha

War from a woman's perspective.
Having read quite a few immigrant fiction about the diaspora South Asian and others, I wasn't expecting much. Island of a thousand mirrors is a story about the Sri Lankan civil war and refreshingly enough all the major protagonists are women. I have ...   Read More

Molly B. (Longmont, CO)

Gorgeous Writing
Munaweera's writing is exquisite. It flows so smoothly it seems casual. There are no wasted words or dull prose. Each sentence is a new structure and complete idea, yet it flows seamlessly between the one before and after. She presents vividly ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Sri Lankan Civil War

Adam's bridgeThe country of Sri Lanka covers an area of just over 25,000 square miles. Located off the southern tip of India, the island has been called "the pearl of the Indian Ocean" due to to its shape, location, and natural beauty. Separated from India by about 18 miles at its closest point it is believed that there was a land bridge between it and the mainland up until the 15th century. Today, the chain of limestone shoals, known as Rama's bridge or Adam's bridge can clearly be seen from the air. Full of lush green landscape, tropical forests, waterfalls, and beaches, it is no wonder that, according to Islamic folklore, Sri Lanka was offered as a refuge for Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

There had been tension ...

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