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July 31, 2016 | by  | in Books |
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Ruins

★★★

Author: Rajith Savanadasa

Publisher: Hachette

 

I didn’t want to like this book. It seemed boring and ‘realistic’—a personal red flag. Begrudgingly, however, I am forced to concede that I was impressed by this first offering from young Australian author Rajith Savanadasa.

The book begins with familial chaos. We are introduced to an average Sri Lankan family through the eyes of their uncomplicated and indefensibly sweet maid, Latha. While figuring out which character is which is difficult at first (Savanadasa uses a multitude of nicknames and honorifics), it’s made easier by him changing the narrator, chapter by chapter, to bring us into the minds of all five members of the Herath household.

What won me over, though, was Savanadasa’s exquisite observation of the personalities of each family member. Each was so distinct and perfectly captured that I couldn’t help thinking, “dang, this writer knows his stuff.” There was no concealment of ugly traits, no black and white arguments; everything was complex and frustrating and real. Reflective, I suppose, of the reality of the Sri Lankan politics that formed a background to the narrative.

The Sinhala vs. Tamil conflict intrudes into the very core of this family. With a Tamil mother and a Sinhala father, the division that cuts through their country also cuts through their home. The mother can’t seem to escape her past, a pain manifested in her quest to find what happened to a Tamil boy she used to see on her street. The father resents this, just as he resents the control that the government has on his newspaper business, but in his powerlessness, the potential good in his character bows down. Their son is also—let’s just say it—a douche, and their daughter wallows in the private throes of unrequited love. Crazy all round.

If you want to be faced with the truth that all families are equally tragic, no matter where they are, or appreciate multilinguality in your novels, then read this book.

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