WARNING: I may gush about this book.

Sri Lanka! That really big island off the coast of India (no, it’s not part of India). It is to India what Madagascar is to Africa. At least geographically. I don’t know about any other similarities. Or lack thereof. I am literally just talking about how it looks on the map.

Anyway.

I got really excited to read my book from Sri Lanka, because I REALLY LOVE M.I.A. (who is Sri Lankan, in case you didn’t already know).

The book: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. It is beautiful, and terrifying, and haunting.

The book takes place during the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted 3 decades, from the 1970s until 2009. Basically, there were two ethnic groups: the majority Sinhalese in the south, who were mostly Hindu, and the minority Tamils in the north, who were mostly Muslim. They really hated each other, with the Tamils claiming they were being repressed by the Sinhalese (not a completely unfounded statement), and eventually they just started killing and raping each other.

I wish I was being sarcastic.

The Tamils eventually resorted to terrorist tactics, and would use suicide bombers in crowded areas, taking out soldiers and civilians alike. The Sinhalese soldiers, for their part, were known to kidnap and rape young, unprotected Tamil girls – among other atrocities.

The book follows two teenage girls who grow up during the war – one a Sinhalese whose family flees the violence to live in the United States, and the other a Tamil, who is cannot escape the country, and thus grows up knowing the violence and danger of the civil war all her life.

I thought Munaweera, who is Sinhalese herself, did a really good job of staying impartial throughout the book. It would have been very easy to just Blame the Terrorists for the violence that happened – but it wouldn’t have told the whole story. How do people become terrorists, anyway? Or for that matter, how does someone decide to become a suicide bomber? Munaweera asks that very question in her book:

“…I dream of that head every night… I know it must have been the suicide bomber. Only an extremely close detonation would pop a head off a body like that. It makes me ponder this woman, girl really. What could have led her to this singularly terrible end? What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?”

With all the recent terrorist violence in the world, I find myself wondering why more people aren’t asking that question. It has to take a really messed up person to become a suicide bomber – a person who has been messed up because of…what? Religious fanaticism? Loneliness? Lack of a homeland? Poverty? What messes up a person so bad that they decide that killing themselves, and killing as many people as they can in the process, is a good idea?

There are parts of this book that will probably haunt me forever. But this question that Munaweera asks – “What secret wound bled until she chose this most public disassembly of herself?” – I think is the most important question. Certainly it is central to the book itself. I find myself thinking of this scene whenever I hear of another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. I don’t have an answer yet – probably never will. But I think it’s important to keep asking.

What books have left you with questions that you find yourself still searching for answers for?

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