‘This Divided Island’ by Samanth Subramanian: A Review & more

I rarely write book reviews although I read or attempt to read at least 4 full books a month. I rather distill the insights of different reads to analyse the complex messy reality around me. This approach helps me to write my book on urbanization and globalization and also helps to attract a regular readership on my blog.
This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian, a Columbia educated India Correspondent of The National, an English Language Newspaper based out of Abu Dhabi is a Tour De Force of Indian Contemporary Writing based on the stark realities of the mess after the Sri Lankan Army’s demolition job of the Tamil Tigers and with it the complete subjugation of the minority Tamils in the East and the Northern Jaffna Peninsula in an aggressively Buddhist Sinhalese Sri Lanka. The Book is based on comprehensive fieldwork throughout the curvature of the Island the shape of a tear drop in two years after the Tigers were crushed with brutal thud of a hammer as if a mosquito is being squatted.
A first hand journalistic, but quasi-ethnographic account of personal accounts of survivors, stakeholders and civil society actors mainly commoners give this book a Pico-Iyereque Feel while the intellectual historiography of the Tamil Struggle in Sri Lanka is Pankaj Mishra-esque; both writers whom I deeply admire. The book reflects the churning of Sri Lankan Society and its new contours as a Buddhist Sinhalese Nation, where Muslims and Tamils of all faiths have to live by the dictate of the Buddhist Sangha and its radical advocates as the Sinhala Ravaya (or the Sinhalese Roar) where the Monks in Robes justify raw violence to squash any ideology other than the majoritarian narrative of the Aryan Sinhalese Race. The culture, politics, discourse and history is being recalibrated in accordance with the victors scale; this time is the Sinhalese Sri Lankan State. The 2000 year Tamil History in Sri Lanka is reduced to a footnote as signboards even in the Tamil North are in English and Sinhalese. The ‘Devala’ or Tamil in Sinhalese is treated as dispensable as can be read from the stories that the author shares in this narrative. The Book is divided into sections and sub-episodes and is aptly inter-linked to carve a smooth drive. The details of the book capture the war as a personal calamity rather than of cold political state-craft. The Terror, The North, The Faith, and Endgames aka the sections of the books are named with a specificity of a physicist gripping the essence of the write-up.
The most engaging elements of the book for me were the episodes narrating heart wrenching expulsions of the native Jaffna Tamil Muslims in 1990 on a summer afternoon and how the Buddhist Monks have justified War against Tamils on a racist/religion based rationale which renders a moral passport for state led so called anti-terror purges. Fanaticism of all shades it seems has the same colour. The racist justification it felt was the same as the Nazis had against the Jews and same fervour of medieval animosity of the Palestinian-Israeli Question. The Identity tangle brews bloodshed and similar non Buddhist activities such as riots against Muslims of the Arakan and Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar by the neocon Buddhist Groups such as 969 have shown that extremism has no rationale.
I would recommend this travelogue thesis on post war Sri Lanka as an add to a serious readers personal library. A sure-shot contender for the South Asian Writing in English awards for 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s