Although I’d put my name down to read 5 books for the South Asian Author Challenge hosted by Swapna of S. Krishna’s Books, I had secretly been hoping to read much more. Looking back, I see that my reading’s been concentrated around my trip home to Sri Lanka early in the year and then petered out. Oh well, that just leaves me more for next year:)

So what did I read this year?

Mosquito by Roma Tearne – loved this. I have 3 more books by Tearne which I’m looking forward to reading.
The Road from Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva – my favourite book of the challenge.
Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai – a re-read which again impressed upon me what a fine writer Selvadurai is. I’m eagerly awaiting his next book.
Serendipity by Ashok Ferrey – this novel didn’t really work for me however I’m a huge fan of his short stories so looking forward to reading more by Ferrey.
The Moon in the Water by Ameena Hussein – dark and melancholic and definitely looking forward to reading more by Hussein.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – my introduction to Lahiri. I love her easy style.

Which makes 6 books in total, most concentrating on Sri Lanka. Can’t be helped as I like discovering my roots!

This is a great challenge in which to participate if you have an interest in South Asia and its literature. Swapna’s built up a wonderful directory of literature by South Asian authors and set in South Asia, so do check her blog. And the sign-up for the 2011 challenge has already begun. So, are you going to join us this year?

Here’s to exploring more South Asian authors and literature in 2011!

OK, so we’re halfway through the year and the question is, am I halfway through all of my challenges? Let’s see, I’ve put my name down for a lot of challenges this year and at one point I thought my brain was going to spontaneously combust. However, on noting down what I’ve read, it seems I’m on track. Sort of.

Suspense and Thriller 2010 Challenge: 6/12
Flashback Challenge: 1/3
Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge: 1/5 – I missed seeing Going Postal so will wait for the DVD
South Asia Authors Challenge: 6/5 – but I’m planning to read more
TBR Challenge: 1/12 – not very impressive
Women Unbound Challenge: 4/5
Once Upon A Time IV Challenge: 1/1
1930s Reading Challenge: 0/1

Not as bad as I thought, although my TBR pile needs some serious seeing to.

I’ve also decided that I will allow myself to buy one book with every three books I read from my TBR pile (unless I really need to, of course!) Just to keep the ball rolling.

Anyway, to end on a cheerful note, I received the following in the post:

The Killer of Pilgrims by Susanna Gregory – from the lovely people at Little Brown. Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael are two of my favourite medieval sleuths.

24 Hours Paris by Marsha Moore – which I won from Me and My Big Mouth. My whole family loves Paris and it’s got some great ideas about what to do there hour by hour.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – from the lovely people at Orion Books. I have belatedly discovered the delightful Flavia de Luce in the first volume The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and can’t wait to tuck into this one.

And I found this at my library:

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde – I need a bit of Fforde fiction to tide me over until proper summer is here. I mean it, proper summer. You’re on your way, aren’t you??

I wasn’t really sure about writing this review. I really enjoyed Ferrey’s two previous volumes of short stories, Colpetty People and The Good Little Ceylonese Girl, with their witty observations of people from the countries in which Ferrey lived before returning to Sri Lanka 20 years ago. And of course the infamous Colombo crowd. Ferrey’s prose is engaging, clever and colourful with frequent use of the local lingo.

Ferrey describes his first novel Serendipity as a collection of loosely connected short stories. We meet various characters from Piyumi, the lawyer from London who returns to Sri Lanka after failing in her career and love, Marek, the Polish builder who leaves his mother, and his father’s house which is being sold off in pieces, for a new job as a teacher in Colombo, to Debs the gay NGO worker. And we can’t forget the politicians scrambling to the top of the dung heap of Sri Lankan politics (including a character named Fonseka whom Ferrey vehemently denies was deliberate – and what a serendipitous coincidence since the Sri Lankan elections were just announced when the book was published.)

There are several plot points from a suspicious insurgent group plotting attacks from a London newsagents, a tuk-tuk driver trying to make his way out of his slummy existance and the fate of Serendipity, Piyumi’s ancestral home, which her relatives who all live abroad want to sell off.

The book is well written and Ferrey has a certain way with words that is very slick. Maybe even a little too clever, but that’s never a bad thing. It’s just that I didn’t really respond to Piyumi. I couldn’t understand her choices and I couldn’t sympathise with all the awful things that happened to her. However I did like Marek and his heartbreaking naiveté. Maybe some of the characters were too outlandish for me, I’m not sure. And the ending wasn’t one that I expected (which isn’t a bad thing either, but it wasn’t what I was looking for) and left me wanting more.

At the GLF 2010, Ferrey did a reading of Seredipity with some of his friends and it was a colourful experience which brought his novel alive.

Sometimes a book just doesn’t resonate with what you are looking for, and this one didn’t as much as his short stories. But I’m certainly looking forward to his next one.

I read this as part of the South Asian Author Challenge.

As soon as I landed in Colombo, my father spoke excitedly about a book he had read recently, a book which one of my good Sri Lankan friends had said I must read. My father, who likes to read his books slowly said he finished it in two days. And being jet-lagged and unacclimatised to the the tropical heat, I began to read it that night and finished it in 4 hours. The book, winner of the Gratiaen Prize in 2003, was The Road form Elephant Pass by Nihal de Silva. I had seen it last year in the bookshops in Colombo and didn’t feel an urge to read it as it was about a Sri Lankan army officer and a Tamil Tiger fighter (and I’m not such a fan of military stories). But that was precisely what made the book such a thrilling, yet profound read. It was the first book I read that tackled the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and discussed deep rooted prejudices and questions which we have all asked yet were too afraid to voice in public.

The novel begins at Elephant Pass, a strategic base in the north of Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan army is engaged in a stand-off against the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. Captain Wasantha, a Sinhalese soldier, is given the task of bringing in an LTTE informant who has turned against the Tigers and has agreed to hand over vital information in exchange for a deal. Things go wrong from the start and Wasantha and Kamala, the young female Tamil Tiger activist, have no choice but to go on the run together and try to make it through the Wanni, the heart of Tiger territory, Wilpattu National Park and down to Colombo where Kamala insists on handing over the information directly to the head of the Sri Lankan army. The two, fierce enemies at the start, must work together in order to stay alive and ward off unwanted attention from both sides of the conflict. In addition, there is the constant danger from feral army deserters who have nothing to lose. As Wasantha and Kamala work together and have no choice but to help one another, their hostility towards each other slowly erodes as they learn about their past, losses and beliefs which have led them to where they are in their lives today. Would they make it in one piece to Colombo? And when they do, will Kamala be safe? Can their fragile trust in each other survive the war?

Nihal de Silva has produced a finely written, taut, thriller dealing with difficult and complex issues in an unbiased, unsentimental, yet intelligent manner. I was severely impressed with the way he discussed the Sinhala-Tamil conflict which is so emotive and which has destroyed so many lives in Sri Lanka and the diaspora. And in Wasantha and Kamala, de Silva has shown the strength of both peoples, the horror and sadness each has had to face and the way humans are the same wherever they come from and in which ethnicity they are born.

I can’t recommend The Road from Elephant Pass highly enough. It made me think deeply about the mechanism of war and the destructive nature of hatred. As much as it is about war and has an incredibly fast-paced plot, it is also a love story between two people whose beliefs and paths in life are polar opposites, yet who are given the chance to discover each other and find a fleeting happiness amongst all the chaos and destruction around them.

Sadly, in 2006 Nihal de Silva was killed in a landmine explosion in his beloved Wilpattu National Park in northwestern Sri Lanka which features so much in his book. The Road from Elephant Pass was made into a film titled Alimankada recently in Sri Lanka which I have yet to see, but I have heard that the ending has been altered. If I were you, I’d make sure I read the book first.

I’m submitting this book for both the South Asian Authors Challenge hosted by S. Krishna’s Books and the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 by Book Chick City.