Mosquito by Roma Tearne
28 January, 2010
This is my first offering for the TBR 2010 Challenge and the South Asian Author Challenge and I’m happy I read it because 1) it was an extremely well written and evocative book and 2) it’s been on my TBR pile for about 3 years. Every time I go back to Sri Lanka I return with a pile of books by Sri Lankan authors and every good intention to read them as soon as I can, but I am so easily distracted…
Mosquito by Roma Tearne does not read like a first novel. Tearne’s prose is clear and simple and she has written a tragic but beautiful tale about returning to your roots and finding a paradise turned into hell. Tearne herself is Sri Lankan of mixed Tamil/Sinhalese parentage and left Sri Lanka at the age of 10 with her family. All the Sri Lankan authors I have attempted to read who write about Sri Lanka touch upon the internal conflict which afflicted the land for over 30 years, and it’s heartbreaking and sometimes difficult to read. But if you want to learn something about the country, you have to know about it’s history which permeates everything and everyone, whether they are in Sri Lanka or abroad.
In Mosquito, we meet Theo Samarajeeva, an acclaimed international writer whose book is being made into a major film who returns to Sri Lanka after 30 years. He comes back nursing a broken heart after the death of his Italian wife Anna to find his country unrecognisable. He rents a beach house and is looked after by his manservant Sugi who becomes a trusted friend and settles down to write, but finds that his attention is caught by his neighbour’s daughter Nulani Mendis, a young girl scarred by the violent death of her father who has stopped speaking and only draws. A friendship blossoms between the two, slowly chipping away at their sadness and loneliness and Theo slowly returns to writing as Nulani discovers her talent as a painter. Their brief friendship is torn apart when the island’s violence closes in on them and their lives as well as those of their friends are splintered in the chaos of war.
This was a sad book, but to me it was a story of love more than a story of war. The alienationation Theo feels on his return after such a long absence, the disjunction between life in Europe compared with Sri Lanka, the bittersweet blanket of time which soothes away sorrow but still allows for the heart to burn with love for someone lost to them. Tearne’s fiction is vivid, and although I shed a few tears at the end, there was some sort of redemption for the characters in her tale. She doesn’t judge the people or their actions but drops you into a world where the majority of people are struggling to understand the breakdown of their society. It also brought home to me that there are always two sides to a war and both are capable of startling acts of kindness as well as terrible atrocities.
I’m looking forward to reading her next book Bone China.