Thursday, 14 February 2019

Child Soldiers by Indika Guruge – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Riza, a young upper-middle class girl from Jaffna, Sri Lanka born during the bloody and brutal 26-year Sri Lankan civil war has her whole world turned upside down when her close family member is killed in the civil war. She didn’t want anything to do with the civil war, but now she was forced to join a side, she had to, even though she was still only a child. The thirst for revenge was too great for her courageous spirit to simply ignore it. Even if it meant saying goodbye to her family she had come to love more than she ever believed possible.

But things wouldn’t go so easy for young Riza, as she delves deeper into the conflict she finds out the dark and hidden secrets of the terrorist forces she joined in the civil war in order to avenge her family member. Riza will truly find out the meaning of a full-scale bloody civil war, and will learn the true meaning of sacrifice and loyalty as she uncovers the ugly side of the people she joined…’

Will she survive the brutal war, avenge her fallen family member and return to her family, or will the horrors of war get the best of young Riza?’

The island nation in the Indian Ocean had a gruesome civil war for almost quarter of a century. Over 100,000 people were killed and 800,000 people were displaced, internally or as refugees elsewhere. Heads of state of two countries (Sri Lanka and India) were assassinated. As someone who is from just across the Palk Strait, I could easily relate to the stories from the civil war. Child Soldiers is a fictionalised portrayal of the reality that prevailed in Sri Lanka during the Civil War.

The story features an upper middle class Tamil family comprising John, a Colombo based doctor, his wife and two children. The eventual persecution of the Tamils in Colombo and other Sinhalese majority areas of Sri Lanka forced the family to move north in Jaffna. This is a story of how John and his daughter Riza, eventually are radicalised and join the militant separatist movement – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The author has paid extreme attention to detail in the story – giving an elaborate background as to what led to the troubles in Sri Lanka. Very little is known about the gruesome war outside of Sri Lanka and in the state of Tamil Nadu in India and the background is needed to appreciate the story. The character of John was built well, a moderate, who was initially against the militants and extreme circumstances made him to eventually give in. Riza was an even more interesting character, well read and someone regarded as the ‘intellectual’ in a class. Her journey from the pacifist to a child soldier and a totally committed LTTE warrior was a highlight of the book. The internal functioning of LTTE was brought out well, including aspects like jealousy and caste / religious consciousness within the ranks.

I believe the author could have avoided the use of representative images in the book – the writing seemed so akin to non-fiction that for a while, I thought it was perhaps a real story before I read the initial disclaimer again. While I appreciate that the style gave the feeling of reading the story of a real person, as a reader, I would always prefer to visualise the scene myself and a representative image limits a reader’s thought.

While John and Riza were characters with a high level of detail, sufficient attention was not given to any of the others. Under such circumstances, an epilogue stating the fate of every character was unnecessary.

This was a war with extreme level of human rights violations from both sides. Persecution from the Sri Lankan Army on the one side, brutal suppression of any opposition by LTTE, not to mention them using children as soldiers. However, what I felt was the most shocking was presence of political and ideological support right across the Palk Strait in Tamil Nadu (India) and an equally alarming is the fact that hardly anything is known about this outside of South Asia.

Thus, I feel it is great from the author that an effort has been made to bring out this story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story (would have been able to even if I was from outside of South Asia). On that note, I would give the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

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