(This review starts out with a little personal story, feel free to skip the first paragraph for the full book review!) I know a few things about Sri Lanka mainly that it’s an island located to the south of India, it used to be named Ceylon, and that there was a long and brutal civil war that went on for decades. I also know that there are two main languages in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese and Tamil. For many years I assumed that Tamil was the main language, due to a project I worked on. It was just after Christmas in 2004, and I worked at a small translation company. One of our clients was the British Red Cross and had asked us to rush the translation of a pamphlet for them into 7 languages, two of which were Tamil and Sinhalese, due to the terrible tsunami that had hit countries around the Indian Ocean. I had no issues finding translators to work on 6 of the languages, but spent hours and hours working with a BBC World Service operator to find a way to get a Sinhalese translation (in the end it involved him dictating the translation over the phone to someone in Sri Lanka who then typed it up and sent it to us). We couldn’t find anyone with a Sinhalese keyboard! So my impression was that Sinhalese was less spoken than Tamil, hence my presumption that it was the main language.
It wasn’t until I read Logathasan Tharmathurai’s memoir The Sadness of Geography that I realized that my knowledge of Sri Lanka left a lot to be desired, and also found out the reasons why it had been so much easier for me to find a Tamil translator that day. And I suggest you read his memoir too, you will leap into a personal story of immigration, hardship, and strength, but also a story of a country that has endured too much, and a country that has an amazing, and very complicated, history.
Logathasan Tharmathurai takes you on the journey of his life, starting with hiding in the rice fields from government soldiers, fearing for his life, going back through his early life, and growing up in a well-off and well-regarded family with a somewhat interesting father character. He also takes you through the beginnings of civil war, of struggles, riots and acts of terrorism, and of his decision to leave the country at the age of 18 and find a way to make a better life for himself and his immediate family.
Logathasan Tharmathurai’s journey from Sri Lanka to Canada, via other countries, is amazing. He manages (with the help of others) to get himself in and out of some pretty dire situations, some of which I think would have made many other people give up. His strength is a gift, so very inspiring, and his story is one that should be read. I learnt so much about Sri Lanka, about the civil war that killed and displaced so many, about the Sinhalese and the Tamil, about the devastation that hate leaves behind, but also about courage, and the ties of family. I remember hearing about Tamil Tigers on the radio as a child, and always imagined warriors dressed in tiger skins in the forests... Logathasan Tharmathurai displays the fierce love, strength, and endurance of several tigers. A must read.