Revisiting the battlefield
Ayesha Herath is an academic who has ventured into the grave task of
harnessing war, politics and history, issues related to English
education, upward social mobility and marriage into one yoke. She
vividly discusses these issues through her first novel Fires from Kili,
set in a shifting milieu, first in a remote corner of the North Western
Province, to end in the Western Province with its frequent glimpses of
the Vanni battlefield.
Symbolically, it is the pathetic saga of Sri Lanka, entangled in a
protracted civil war with its ever persistent issues of employment,
superstition, insurgency and politics. The novel covers the period 1971
to 2009, the year in which SRI LANKA created history by becoming the
first country to eradicate terrorism.
The brave Security Forces had the onerous responsibility of
destroying the LTTE while liberating the civilian population, without
causing any casualties to the non-combatants. Ayesha Herath skillfully
portrays this pace of the battle in which the hero of the novel, Col.
Laksiri Premarathne participates. The novel is most welcome at a time
when Sri Lanka is striving to emerge as an autonomous nation from the
clutches of international pressure; it sheds light on the humanitarian
side of a soldier when he deals with the Tamil civilians.
The novel also speaks of the plight of a girl studied in Sinhala
medium when it comes to job hunting, and the political involvement in
it; it further discusses the private life of a soldier and his
relationship with his wife and family.
She writes with an extremely true Sri Lankan voice with its lilt and
cadence. Her book is sprinkled with multi-ethnic characters whose voices
symbolically represent Sri Lanka as one nation under one flag but with
different ethnic groups.
The novel has been written based on research, and it helps recall the
memories related to haalpolla, the post election scenario of 1977 and
July 1983. The title Fires from Kili symbolically speaks about the
raging fires from Kilinochchi that helped cremate thousands of civilian
Here, the author has been successful in portraying and integrating
some of the root causes of the ethnic conflict into the story through
the third person observant narrator. Intricacies of Lanka’s character
are portrayed when she develops into a woman passing hurdles that come
her way due to the complexities created by politicians. Ayesha is a
genius of creating true-to-life characters with blood throbbing in their
veins. She takes the readers into an unsophisticated village when
Lanka’s mother Kamala speaks. Although the narrative rambles it does not
diminish the quality of the novel; it enhances the oral tradition of
storytelling which she tries to rediscover through her narrative.
Though the language of the novel is of Standard English, with the
writer’s effort of mixing and switching codes the language has rendered
it an authentic Sri Lankan flavor with a mildly humorous touch.