Compared to the expressive, deeply felt chapters about Yasodhara’s family, Munaweera’s depiction of war-torn Sri Lanka,...

ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS

The Sri Lankan civil war’s traumatic effect on the island nation's people—and one family in particular—is the subject of this verdantly atmospheric first novel.

After a graphic post-coital prologue, Sri Lanka born California resident Munaweera begins her family saga in 1948, when the British leave their former colony Ceylon, where the Tamil majority is looked down on by the lighter-skinned Sinhala ruling class. Nishan and his twin sister, Mala—children of an ambitious Sinhala teacher and a laid-back doctor of uncertain bloodlines—leave their coastal village to attend university in Colombo. Free spirit Mala falls in love with another student and marries without traditional arranged nuptials. Nishan, an engineer, is deemed acceptable to marry aristocratic Visaka, the daughter of an Oxford-educated Sinhala judge, only because the judge’s expenditures while renovating his home shortly before his death have left his family financially strapped. Visaka’s mother has recently had to rent out the upstairs of her house, and Nishan does not know that Visaka marries him while pining for Ravan, one of her mother’s Tamil tenants. Ravan and his new wife live upstairs while Nishan and Visaka move in downstairs, where they raise daughters Yasodhara and Luxshmi. Yasodhara’s closest playmate and soul mate is Ravan’s son Shiva. The children live there in innocent bliss until 1983, when Mala’s husband is brutally murdered by an angry mob during increasing Tamil-Sinhala unrest. Nishan and Visaka react by moving to America, where their daughters soon assimilate. But after a college relationship ends badly, Yasodhara allows her parents to pick a husband for her. As Yasodhara’s marriage falls apart, successful artist Luxshmi returns to Sri Lanka to teach children wounded in the war. Meanwhile, in northern Sri Lanka, a young Timor girl is drawn into the intensifying civil war until her life’s destiny crosses those of Luxshmi and Yasodhara.

Compared to the expressive, deeply felt chapters about Yasodhara’s family, Munaweera’s depiction of war-torn Sri Lanka, though harrowing, seems rushed and journalistic, more reported than experienced.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04393-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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