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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

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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 lives.

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.

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