Monday, July 07, 2008

Bone China

I came across Bone China as I was browsing through the fiction section at Crosswords, Bangalore. Reading the summary in the back cover, I was immediately convinced I should buy this book if only because it was a book about Sri Lanka if nothing else. I waited about a month to read it, but once I started reading, I found unable to shut this book by Roma Tearne and get on with other activities. I finished it in two days.

Set first in Sri Lanka and then in London, it follows the lives of three generations of the De Silva family. It carries the reader through the British occupation and its effects, the Tamil bourgeouis in the country and their downfall with the ending of the Crown Rule, the civil unrest and the accompanying exodus of an entire generation of Tamils from Sri Lanka and finally the challenges facing immigrants.

The prose is lyrical and elegant. The writing is beautifully simple and does not drag on this three generation novel into one of epic proportion. The reader is able to identify and get acquainted with each character in all three generations thus enabling the sorrow and loss that meets these characters to be felt as the reader's loss. Due to this close relationship between reader and character, the deaths that take place at each point of the book is felt strongly. The loss of the 2nd generation family members towards the end of the book makes the reader feel forelorn and strangely reminscent of them. Not only does Anna-Meeka, the third generation main character, able to think 'if they were here..' so are we, the readers.

Tearne is successful at conveying the complexity of emotions that accompanies migration. The eternal feeling of homesickness, not belonging and the struggle to fit in is depicted perfectly through her writing. The longing for the wide beaches, the palm trees and the Sri Lankan soil even though it is rife with civil war and unrest is common to many immigrants. It is a feeling that is captured so beautifully by her writing. In Jacob, we have the character that is shutting out the beauty of home and embracing all that is his new homeland however forever acceding that there is a limit to the happiness and contentment one can achieve away from ones homeland.

Tearne may have not got some of the details of the Civil war in Sri Lanka right. Like many of her contemporaries, as Sri Lankan authors living abroad it is difficult to truly comprehend the degree to which Sri Lankans living at home are affected by the war. Tearne speaks of suicide bombers in the 60's however suicide bombings are a sympton of the crisis with the LTTE and did not begin till the 80's. Similarly, the thoughts of the De Silva's on returning to Sri Lanka are negated due to the curfews and constant fightings on the streets. As maybe the impressions of lots of immigrants, Colombo is not constantly under fire and people living inside houses with doors bolted. Life goes on. In 'Bone China', life went on for Grace, Aloysius and Frieda amidst growing turmoil. Their eventual experiences were perhaps not completely understood by the rest of the De Silva family as all horrors become magnified as they sail abroad.

All in all, 'Bone China' was a magnificent read. In the same genre as 'July' and 'When Memories Die', this book captures the essence of Sri Lanka. What it is to live here, what it means to leave it and the sheer joy of the eventual return.

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