cover image Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Nayomi Munaweera. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-04393-1

The paradisiacal landscapes of Sri Lanka are as astonishing as the barbarity of its revolution, and Munaweera evokes the power of both in a lyrical debut novel worthy of shelving alongside her countryman Michael Ondaatje or her fellow writer of the multigenerational immigrant experience Jhumpa Lahiri. Munaweera’s modern-day protagonist, Yasodhara Rajasinghe, recounts her Singhala grandparents’ origins—what she calls “one possible narrative of my island.” To show how different those narratives can be and how frequently they intertwine—as Munaweera writes, this is a “war that will be waged between related beasts”—she also tells the stories of the Tamil boy who goes on to fight in the revolution and a young girl who will be driven by violence to martyr herself to it. But not all episodes in the story are violent: in the 1950s, Yasodhara’s mother’s family shares their Colombo home with the Tamil Shivalingham clan, and, even as the two families wage catty upstairs-downstairs battles, a steadfast love grows up between them. Munaweera’s prose teems with delicious descriptions of food (coconut flesh “gelatinous as egg white, creamy as ice cream,” avocados mashed with condensed milk, pumpkin curry) and flora (gardens where there are “orchids spilling from trees to brush our faces, ferns uncurling tenderly, bird chatter, and the unbroken line of coconut trees”). The book leaves the reader with two lingering smells that perfectly capture the conflict that nearly destroyed Munaweera’s home country: gasoline and jasmine. (Sept.)