Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Whirlwind by Ayathurai Santhan

First I shall grouse about the Grataien. It is really irritating not to be able to read the shortlisted works and sometimes not even to be able to read the winning works until a year has passed. So this year there were three manuscripts and two books and of course last year's winner got published just in time as well. I have yet to pick up copies of the two winners - this year and last year, but my aunt who went for the Gratiaen picked this book up for me.

I didn't go for either the shortlisting or the award night but the literary chatter was that there was this interesting book written by a writer from Jaffna about the time the IPKF was stationed there. In fact, I thought at the time, that this might have been a sure winner. Then I read the book and straight off, I will tell you if it had won, I would have been dissapointed.

In my opinion a prize winning book has to stand out. While this book actually had what could have been a gripping story, the writing style left much to be desired and I was not even sure that it should have been shortlisted.

The story is set over a very short period of time. Perhaps over a few days. When the IPKF came as so called peace monitors to the North of the Island, they saw all the people there as Sri Lankans - an identity the Northerners had erased from their psyche and they saw all Tamils as potential LTTErs. Concentrating on one village that has all the people rounded up and housed in one compound that had one toilet for around 400 people, the people are confused if they are there for their safety or being detained. The depiction of the Indian army is sketchy and not drawn out yet it does not turn out to be a weakness of the book, for the slim novel in fact concentrates on the relationships, hardships and fears that the Northern Tamil families were going through during a period that they hoped would save them and yet became another kind of horror for them.

When you read this book, you feel for our people and what they have had to go through. They are mere pawns that are toyed with all players - the LTTE, the Sri Lankan army, the Indian army. Ayathurai Santhan is careful not to tread on the ideology of the average Northern Tamil person. He shows all these people as victims, being tossed from one side to the other at the whim of whoever rules. It might have been interesting if he had taken a stance, for after all the LTTE could not have existed and been successful for so long, without popular support in the area. The book ends without resolution.

The writing is replete with Sri Lankan English of the lesser kind: akward, clumsy and sometimes grammatically incorrect. Now, I hope I don't get flak for this comment. For example: "Though everyday, Sivan had passed by this house often, this was the second time he happened to be inside." Is a sentence written in the way Sri Lankan's typically speak. And there is nothing wrong with that if it was written as direct speech.

My final comments is that this is a book that I highly recommend only because there is a dearth of writing in English about the conflict from the Tamil perspective. I admit that it is written in a sometimes crude and akward manner, that the story could have been fleshed out better, that as it is, it is not a very strong book. But it is important that all Sri Lankans be able to read about our history, and what better way to do it, than through fiction, the different voices and perspectives of our history - be it good or evil. I applaud Ayathurai Santhan for taking the courage and writing such a book. I just wish it had been edited much more and we would have a stronger perhaps even a prize winning book. I look forward to more books written from varying perspectives, perhaps one that is sympathetic to the LTTE cause for we need to know how part of our own people wished to secede from the country in the hope for a life of equality, justice and peace.


  1. Just a suggestion, but why don't you review some poetry books? I'd love to read such a review. By the way, I am addicted to your blog, egghead! Two thumbs up!

  2. Yeah! Someone reads my blog! Thanks for the encouraging words. Any suggestions for poetry books? I am more a story kind of person and except for Vivimarie van der Poorten I don't think I have read much poetry. But let's see, I have two more novels to get through then may give poetry another shot.

  3. Thats awesome! I've been reading lots of maiden efforts by new authors. Some of them are pretty good! Anyway, thanks for the speedy response!I'm eagerly awaiting more reviews from you!

  4. Hey egghead, i'm a regular visitor to your blog too and just wanted to appreciate your effort. it's hard enough to find a forum that discusses sri lankan writing let alone one that does an honest job of it. so yeah two thumbs up from me too!

  5. I just stumbled across your blog and, first off, may I say how very much I love this blog?

    We really need something like this. However I feel the need to point out to you that the LTTE having a stronghold in Jaffna only because of the popular support of the people might be too simplistic a view.

    I didn't read this book so I do not know what it is the author portrayed, I am just going by your comments on it. Also, though a Tamil from Jaffna, I did not grow up there so I can't claim to be an authentic Jaffna Tamil voice either...

    However... Having lived in Jaffna for a year immediately after the ceasefire and having spoken to many people there, let me put in my two cents worth!

    The people of Jaffna might have originally supported the LTTE as their saviours but the outfit soon grew into a dictatorial one, with no freedom of movement or expression for the people. Maybe the Tamil diaspora who did not have to put up with this tyranny were supportive of the LTTE but most people under its direct yoke, were intensely weary of the war, the heavy taxes and money laundering and the outright dictatorship. Maybe they supported the LTTE in its initial stages, but most soon grew tired of the constant conflict and yearned for peace. The 'Eelam at any cost' stance of the LTTE did not find much favour with them. Only the diaspora could afford to be supportive of this.

    By 1989, the time setting of this book and certainly by 2002, when a shortlved peace was achieved, all the Jaffna people wanted was a lasting peace, which they despaired of Prabhakaran ever granting.

    You might recall that in 2005, many Tamils in the N&E were prevented from voting for Ranil Wickremasinghe, who promised peace. They wanted peace not the war that Mahinda promised. The LTTE however wanted war, not peace, in order to keep on laundering money from the diaspora. At that point in time, they did not believe they could be defeated.

    The LTTE called for a boycott of the elections - because they were sure most of the Tamils, despite the LTTE's edicts against him, would vote for Ranil. Despite that many people were so fed up, they went to vote - and got severely beaten up.

    I am not saying that many Tamils are glad that the LTTE has been annihilated, they would probably have preferred that it remained, though also with peace prevailing. They were all tired of the seemingly never ending war but they also do not trust the govt. to do right by them, which is why they regret the annihilation of the LTTE. Despite all the trials and tribulations it visited upon them, they still see the LTTE as having been the 'weapon' that gave them a 'voice' loud enough to be heard.

    Sorry for the long comment, just felt the need to put my two cents in :)