This Divided IslandSamanth Subramanian
4 February 2016
Published by Atlantic Books
5 February 2015
Published by Atlantic Books
SHORTLISTED FOR THE SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE 2015
SHORTLISTED FOR RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2016
In the summer of 2009, the leader of the dreaded Tamil Tiger guerrillas was killed, bringing to a bloody end the stubborn and complicated civil war in Sri Lanka. For nearly thirty years, the war’s fingers had reached everywhere: into the bustle of Colombo, the Buddhist monasteries scattered across the island, the soft hills of central Sri Lanka, the curves of the eastern coast near Batticaloa and Trincomalee, and the stark, hot north. With its genius for brutality, the war left few places, and fewer people, untouched.
What happens to the texture of life in a country that endures such bitter conflict? What happens to the country’s soul? Samanth Subramanian gives us an extraordinary account of the Sri Lankan war and the lives it changed. Taking us to the ghosts of summers past, and to other battles from other times, he draws out the story of Sri Lanka today – an exhausted, disturbed society, still hot from the embers of the war. Through travels and conversations, he examines how people reconcile themselves to violence, how religion and state conspire, how the powerful become cruel, and how victory can be put to the task of reshaping memory and burying histories.
This Divided Island is a harrowing and humane investigation of a country still inflamed.
A remarkable book by one of India's most talented young writers of non-fiction... This Divided Island - balanced, observant, good-natured, discursive and frequently witty - is a searingly angry and deeply moving portrayal of the agonies of this conflict... This is a major work, containing oral testimonies from all sides of the conflict, and will stand as a fine literary monument against the government's attempt at imposed forgetfulness.William Dalrymple
In this extraordinary book, Subramanian exposes the fallibility of human beings, forcing us to see how superficial is the veneer of civilised life. This Divided Island is a book of our times, about us and about what we are capable of doing to each other.Roma Tearne
Excellent... The book leaves us with a tantalising sense of the ambiguity of peace and victory: of the new and incongruous conservatism of Sinhalese Buddhism. Subramanian withholds judgement, but the precision of the final descriptions is searing.Amit Chaudhuri
Excellent, powerful... Subramanian tells this sorry story with verve and compassion, relentlessly tracking down survivors of, and witnesses to, Sri Lanka's agonies
Brutal majoritarians and ruthless insurgents have long monopolised our sense of Sri Lanka. Samanth Subramanian's sensitive account makes us aware of a missing human dimension. Exploring a war-ravaged landscape, he is bracingly alert to the role of ambiguity as well as ideology in human affairs. In This Divided Island, one of our finest young writers of non-fiction reveals the complicated lives lived in their shadow.Pankaj Mishra
The powerful human stories in This Divided Island - told lucidly and vividly - show what Sri Lankans have won and lost
With the humility of a truly gifted writer, Samanth Subramanian sets out, not to find firm answers to the reasons behind Sri Lanka's civil war, but rather to be changed and opened up by his journey through this war-ravaged land. His journey becomes ours. The things he discovers, the people he meets, haunt us long after we have closed the pages of this sensitive, poignant book.Shyam Selvadurai
There is only one word to describe this book: it's a masterpiece, a Book of the Year, even possibly the decade.Mani Shankar Aiyar
A tour de force. Written with journalistic prowess and integrity, the book succeeds in bringing the war uncomfortably close, so close you can smell the blood.Vaishna Roy
Like Philip Gourevitch's account of the genocide in Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, this is a superbly reported book.Rahul Jacob
This is narrative journalism at its most literary, diligently researched reportage presented with poetry and flair.Shehan Karunatilaka
The best book on the subject and, what is more, a book different in kind from nearly all that have appeared this far.Shyam Tekwan