Samanth Subramanian’s latest book builds a portrait of people affected by the Sri Lankan civil war: The Hindu
A war brings out many memories and stories. There are tales of horror and carnage, of young children being forcibily recruited or new houses being razed to the ground. There are also tales of dark humour. A man is tired of losing his bicycle every time there is an evacuation, decides to slather his cycle with grease and leave it in a well. He is pleased and surprised to discover it right there when he returns many years later. Such tales make the crux of Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island, chronicling the stories of ordinary people impacted by the conflict that afflicted Sri Lanka for almost 23 years.
“I read extensively about Sri Lanka, before embarking on the book,” says the journalist and author, who was in town for the launch. “I read for almost a year and moved to Sri Lanka for a year in 2011. I did my research and my reporting in this period, meeting people across the country, talking to them and learning more about the way in which the war impacted their lives. I wanted to bring in the historical angle — the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese over the island they call home.”
Explaining that he did not want the book to be an endless chapters chronicling the war, the Delhi-based author says: “I made an effort to find how the war impacted them. I wanted the writing to be fluid. The chapters flit between the past and the present. It is a literary way of writing; similar to American narrative journalism. I wanted it to appeal to people who have seen and experienced the war firsthand.” Admitting that it took time to find people who would fit the basic narrative, Samanth said more characters made their appearance as the chapter went along.