Genre: Historical Fiction
Not starting with a quote today for this book is beyond me. I had to study it as a part of a paper, ‘Contemporary South Asian Fiction‘ at the university and I won’t lie but I could not make through it without crying. Not kidding, I was depressed for days. Every text in this paper had more depth than the previous one and was more devastating and unfortunate. People said “Its fiction. Why do you take it so seriously?” But what if more than half of the part of fiction is or has been the grim reality of the country you are reading about? And, that is what Ondjaate does with Anil’s Ghost.
Blood, gore, violence that was what Sri Lanka was all about in the mid 1980s and the early 90s and Ondjaate captures and portrays it all and the trauma in the most humanised inhuman way possible.
Anil Tissera who “had now lived abroad long enough to interpret Sri Lanka with a long-distance gaze.” has come home. She(Yes, Anil is a girl and there is a complete narrative for this) has been sent to Sri Lanka by the organisation she works for to work as a forensic pathologist , to identify the victims of a murder campaign. And,
in the process she finds out some grim realities and uncovers some terrible truths. She is paired opposite Sarath Diyasena, an archaeologist who finds the pairing “odd” and is very complex to uncover and understand. Sarath is a character one finds hard to resist.
There are other important characters such as Gamini, Palipana, and Ananda who in their own ways bring the novel to life. Gamini for example is very reserved and strange. He is a doctor at the time of crisis and says something which has stuck with me ever since I read the novel; “You’ve got to have a sense of humour about all this-otherwise it makes no sense.” He is quite strange but one cannot hate him.
Ananda, on the other hand is a drunkard but had been an artist who lost his wife whom he loved a lot and his was the story which moved me to tears. A line in the novel goes like “The way Sirissa had died in the story he invented for her in the vacuum of her disappearance. A small brave heart. In the heights she loved and in the dark she feared.” And, this is what makes you feel helpless and hopeless and devastated. One has to come to terms with how human beings are the scariest enemies of one another.
Ondjaate through his excellence makes everything feel so real and so close. He takes you into the carnage of the Sri Lankan Civil War. He carves out the brutality of the civil war by showing how people did not only want to kill their enemy but decimate them. He shows us what is now left of a country which had hospitals before Christ; just to exemplify the civilisation and how old it had been in Sri Lanka and shows us what has now become of the island once so beautiful. Its disturbing, its devastating but this is it.
Genre: Historical Fiction