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Island of a Thousand Mirrors

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  3,683 ratings  ·  626 reviews
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
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published 2014 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2012)
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Aruniya Selladurai Agreed! while the rest of the characters' feelings came alive beautifully and deeply affected you, I felt a disconnect with the Tamil family in North.…moreAgreed! while the rest of the characters' feelings came alive beautifully and deeply affected you, I felt a disconnect with the Tamil family in North.
However, big shout to the author for the brutal honesty in narrating the story. Like she aptly writes - “There are no martyrs here. It is a war between equally corrupt forces.”(less)
Anna C I don't know about books, but I watched a very powerful documentary called "No Fire Zone." A few days ago. This uses recovered footage to show that th…moreI don't know about books, but I watched a very powerful documentary called "No Fire Zone." A few days ago. This uses recovered footage to show that the Sri Lankan army basically committed war crimes against Tamil citizens. Very moving.(less)

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Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was lulled by this narrative and its powerfully descriptive writing. The thousand mirrors are the school of silver fish that inhabit the coral surrounding Sri Lanka. They appear to be shards of mirrors as they come together in a frenzy then frantically break apart as they swim out to sea.

I catch my breath as I see the beauty of this island -the vivid colours, the tastes, the sounds, until I am shocked out of my stupor with the violence that turns this ravishingly lush land red with rage and bl
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Sometimes I get this breathless feeling that the war is a living creature, something huge, with a pointed tongue and wicked claws. When the tanks rumble past in the far fields, I feel it breathe; when the air strikes start and the blood flows, I feel it lick its lips."

Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an intense and vivid portrait of a piece of Sri Lankan history that I was relatively unfamiliar with before reading this. A remarkable debut by Nayomi Munaweera, this novel is beautifully written, j
Diane S ☔
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some books, just by the nature of the subject and content are so incredibly hard to read. This was one such book. Portraying two families, caught up in the violence of Sri Lanka, one family leaves and goes to the United States, one family stays in what they consider their home.

Did not know very much about this subject before I started reading this book, but now know much more. That doesn't mean I understand it, I don;t think I will ever understand how one group of people can decide they are bett
Angela M
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I knew pretty much nothing about the civil war in Sri Lanka before I read this novel. About half way through, I stopped reading to learn more so I could better understand this story. I learned that this war lasted over 25 years from 1983 – 2009 and that 80,000 – 100,000 people were killed. What those articles didn’t tell is the story of how this war impacted the people's lives. This book, however, beautifully tells the heart wrenching story of what the Sri Lankan people endured during this civil ...more
This is a moving saga of two families caught up in the civil war in Sri Lanka between the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the largely Muslim Tamil minority. It is beautifully written, full of lyrical portrayals of daily life amid the beauty of the land and sea and flora and fauna of this island nation. The sensuous world of food, colorful clothes, and family traditions of fishing and commerce as painted by two girls growing up in loving families gives way to the fears wrought by smolderi ...more
Aug 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, fiction, sri-lanka
I try to explain. There are no martyrs here. It is a war between equally corrupt forces.

This is Sri Lanka during the Civil War (1983-2009), but it could have been many countries, and the Tamils and Sinhalese could have been numerous ethnic groups. This is a story as old as time, because we’ve always been fighting each other, haven’t we? Young boys have always perished for causes they barely understand; women have always been taken and broken.

In my arrogance I expected less from this pastel colo
Aatreyee Ghosh
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is always hard for me to read a book that talks about immigration. Living in a world of literature where the subject of immi-emi and every sort of integration has been talked about so much, I am always a little weary of picking up a book which yet again comes back to the same American-South Asian dichotomy. Moreover, when a writer who has never really been to the home country chooses to write "authentically" about it, it usually ends up in being a parade of exoticized and over-used situations ...more
Diane Barnes
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
The adjectives "brutal" and "beautiful" aren't normally used together, but they describe this book. Like others, I had no idea that Sri Lanka experienced a 25 year long civil war, killing over 80,000 people. This book chronicles that war on the lives of two families. It begins in the island before the war, with lovely descriptions of the people and their customs, their food, and the natural world that surrounded them. It ends with the loss of not only families, but an entire way of life. Yes, th ...more
In 2016 I read Nayomi Munaweera's second novel What Lies Between Us and it was one of my Top Reads of 2016, a novel of a young woman trying to adjust to life in a new country, though still haunted by both the beauty and tragedy of her past, her childhood in Sri Lanka.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors similarly evokes the childhoods and family life of two families living in the same house. The house is owned by the matriarch Sylvia Sumethra and her husband, The Judge who are Sinhala people (an Indo-Ay
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A powerful story told in a lyrical manner.
Have read a couple of Sri Lankan authors before, and being from South India, With Sri Lanka close by, could not escape knowing about the civil war that has been ripping apart the country. This is the first time I am reading the cultural and political history written in a simple and lucid manner. I don't know who is in the right, who is in the wrong. Often, it is both parties both ways. But I do know that any civil war affects utmost the common person who
“She talks in her most sedate voice, attempting to alleviate our fears, soothe our anxiety. She knows that if we are to survive watching this war from a distance, as spectators, we do not have the privilege of indignation or anxiety.”

I travelled to Sri Lanka in January this year and bought this book as a souvenir. And what a souvenir it's turned out to be. This is a phenomenally written book that recounts the deeply troubled decades of the Sri Lankan civil war through the eyes of two protago

I don't have the words to describe the way this exquisite, small book punched me in the gut, but Nayomi Munaweera certainly has a way with words so I've added a heap of quotes. What a story, what a writer! If you don't know much about the civil war in Sri Lanka, you could do a lot worse than start here.
Powerful, mesmerizing, searing – these are words that come to mind having just put down this novel by first-time author Nayomi Munaweera, which I received from Goodreads. So glad I did, or else I might not ordinarily have come across it, which would definitely have been my loss. An amazingly written masterpiece, the rhythm of the book eerily matches the drumbeat of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which devastated the island nation from 1983-2009 pitting Sinhalese against Tamils and taking the lives of mo ...more
Aug 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I shall wake up from these long decades of war and begin to see what we can do in peace, what sort of creature we are when the mask of lion or tiger fall from us"

The book is as intense as it gets in one of the most balanced portrayals of the Sri Lankan struggle. The book chooses 2 narrators one on each side - the eldest daughters of one Sinhala family (Yasodhara) and one Tamil family (Saraswati). Their stories (and their parents generation) entwined with the indelible historical events in Sri L
Anna C
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. I am beyond grateful to have received a free copy. This book is stunning, and I am in awe of Munaweera's descriptive powers.

"The Island of a Thousand Mirrors" follows two teenage girls through the unimaginable horror of the Sri Lankan civil war (though the term genocide does more justice). The Sinhala Yashodhara escapes to Los Angeles and transforms from a shattered refugee to a normal American, while
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera tells the story of the Sri Lankan civil war which raged from 1983-2009, claiming over 80,000 lives. The events leading up to and including the civil war between the Sinhalas and Tamils unfold in the voices of two young women on opposite sides of the ethnic divide.

Part 1 of the novel focuses on Yasodhara and her Sinhala family. Yasodhara describes the beauty of pre-war Sri Lanka with its pristine beaches, unpolluted ocean, abundant fish, colorful s
My mind is blown away. What a stunning novel. What a heart-breaking novel. I am left feeling all types of ways. Munaweera is a master storyteller. Before reading this book I knew nothing of the civil war that took place in Sri Lanka between 1983-2009. I am so happy I read this book because I really learnt so much about the origin and the horrors that these people went through during that time period.

You hear about these civil wars happening/happened all over the world and it is not until you pi
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
The last of the many books related to Sri Lanka that I read as part of a trip there. People in Sri Lanka don't talk much about the war, except in reluctant fragments, and why should they? They didn't live their traumas for the benefit of curious 1st world tourists. Nonetheless, decades of violence lurk behind the lush landscapes, scrumptious curries, ancient monuments and friendly welcoming smiles, and if you're like me, you'll try to learn more, by hook or by crook. For me, that hook is always ...more
Carly Thompson
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Goodreads first reads and St. Martin’s Press for an advanced copy of the book.

This book takes place in Sri Lanka during their civil war that started in the 80’s and ended in 2009. It was between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the 2 largest ethnic groups living there. This book is about children who grew up during this time and the way the atrocities occurring around them impacted their lives. I was a bit confused about who was who, but my book was an advanced readers copy and did not
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Two women on opposing sides of the Sri Lankan Civil War.

The contrasting and complimentary protagonists add an extremely powerful element to this moving story. Munaweera’s sparse but affecting prose depicts the atrocities and mayhem of civil war, the mental toll along with the physical and emotional expense suffered by all, no one exempt.

Yasodhara’s voice is the central focus, however, Sarawathie’s voice is a perfect example of ‘less is more.’ Yasodhara is Sinhala. Surrounded by a family with unl
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Imagery in this prose is phenomenal for a debut novel. I had little knowledge of the Civil War in Sri Lanka before I read this book. I knew there was a genocide of sorts between "tribal lineages" but not of this length of time, nor of the complexity of spatial relationship between the Tamil and the Sinhalese speakers. 25 years and such extreme brutality, comparable to the Central African machete genocides.

But the story itself is about families, primarily those that live on two different floors o
Liz Janet
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

This follows a Tamil and a Sinhala family, which are the opposite sides of Sri-Lanka politics, and it is told from the perspective of the eldest daughter, as we navigate love, pain, exile/migration/refuge, war.

The book can be considered to be divided into two parts. The first one is a buildup to the tensions that devastated the country and the families, and how relationships between the characters were formed before the di
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shortlisted for the Man Asia Prize, Munaweera's lyrical, intensely emotional novel of the Sri Lankan civil war is a beautifully handled epic told in only 238 pages. The story of several intertwined Sri Lankan families on both sides of the divide of religion--Buddhism and Hindusim--as civil war comes to them, separating neighbors who have lived side by side for generations, by fear and then by hideous violence. Who is this benefiting becomes the unanswerable question.

Told from the point of view
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it
A compelling, humane tale wrapped around the Sri Lankan ethnic conflicts and civil war. It's a very impressive debut novel with elegant prose and an arresting storyline.

The narrator is an immigrant from Sri Lanka who migrated in the 80s when the conflicts were escalating into a full blown civil war. We get slices of (mostly privileged) Sinhalese and Tamil lives blown violently away from the comforts of a peaceful life as the tornado of war makes its way across the Lankan island. I liked that the
Sezín Koehler
Devastatingly beautiful. This is the first book I've ever read about my people in Sri Lanka, and it was eerie to see stories I heard growing up about the riots and the Civil War come to life with Munaweera's words. There's even a yellow Volkswagon in the story, and it was my parents actually who had the first Volkswagon Beetle in Sri Lanka in the mid 1970s. The descriptions of Sri Lanka, the food, the smells, the colors, the life, were so vivid I had goosebumps remembering so many things from my ...more
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am in delightful awe of the beautiful writing. Its luscious words and images are sustained throughout two stories set primarily in Sri Lanka.

This book was an absolute joy to read. I found myself at odds: wanting to read it greedily and yet, dreading the all-too-quick arrival of the last page.

I will keep an eye out for this author. Her debut book tells me that only more gems will follow.
Sangeetha Ramachandran
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
This story is about a Tamil and a Sinhala family during civil war of Srilanka narrated by elder daughters of both the families. Story of how the war distorted their lives and manipulated their fates. Munaweera has unleashed her potential through her ease of writing, touching readers with this poignant story. There wasn't any exaggeration. The details were dealt by her in the most practical manner with a beautiful prose.

While reading "The story of a brief marriage", I came across this one. Even k
May 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nayomi Munaweera's attempt at condensing 50 odd years of Sri Lankan history (weaved in to a family saga) into 230 pages is partly successful . That is , if one could consider the reading as checking out a Family album.

You will find the snapshots meticulously arranged in a chronological order. But unless someone sat with you and explained the entire story behind each one of them, it's not going to be a memorable experience. The photography (her writing) is good, the subjects are equally wonderfu
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I knew very little about Sri Lankan history or it’s Civil War before reading this novel. It did a beautiful job of telling the story of two families – one Tamil and one Sinhala – as they navigate war, migration, family, love, and more. The journey of these families as they navigate their country and culture during a devastating time was fascinating and difficult. I loved this author’s second novel and I also quite liked this one. Not quite as much as her second book but this is a solid debut nov ...more
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Nayomi Munaweera’s debut novel, Island of a Thousand Mirror was long-listed for the Man Asia Literary Prize and the Dublin IMPAC Prize. It won the Commonwealth Regional Prize for Asia and was short-listed for the Northern California Book Award. Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Munaweera’s… lyrical debut novel [is] worthy of shelving alongside her countryman Michael Ondaatje or her fellow writer of the m ...more

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