So here comes the second book review on the blog. And this time, a much more intense book – dealing with nothing less than war. Trying to write on topics like war is very tricky. Because it’s not just about justifying the pains or gains of either side, but trying to clear the painful haze the imagery of war forms in the mind – be it a movie or a book. This is what the author of this book Samanth Subramanian has stressed on, and very rightly so.
This Divided Island plays like a very slow reel of torture – and talks of torture itself in physical through well as emotional methods. This is one of those books that I took my time to finish, because I had to pause quite a few times while reading to really take in the depth of the events unfolding in the pages. I have read a lot of fiction talking of human suffering – physical as well as emotional. But then, it is just that – fiction. I’m not writing off the credibility of fiction writers here, but non fiction surely tends to rattle the strongest of minds. At the same time, this book reads at times like a spy thriller and at times like a romantic tale gone wrong. Some could point this out as a weakness of the book, but I would say it frees the reader of monotony.
Subramanian’s liberal use of adjectives and some very amusing metaphors are what show his brilliance as a writer. He talks of a country – Sri Lanka in this case – that is not just divided, but torn to shreds through the years of conflict that leave permanent scars in the minds of its citizens – or at least those affected by it. The author has also played the able reporter here – careful in not taking oh so clear sides but still not hesitating to depict which party may have committed the “greater wrong.” The central characters, if I were to say it like that, in his book are quite intriguing, with their twisted identities and emotions. That again adds to the nice fictionesque touch of the book. The other interesting (or maybe alarming) thing about this book is the charting of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as a religion very different from what so many of us perceive.
One could object to the (at times) too graphic descriptions of suffering in This Divided Island. But then, this book is not for the faint hearted. Civil wars and internal displacements are such things that have layers and layers of history, to borrow the author’s analogy towards the end of the book. And the more one probes these layers, the louder the screams get. That is why, I do feel grateful at times that we do not have a physical time machine yet.
You can get the book here