Saturday, January 2, 2010


I once asked my postgraduate students what makes a story book memorable. The group comprising editors, media reporters, and teachers with some hesitations came up with answers such as:

• When it has moments of grief, joy, love, frustration, all in the same book, then I would have to say that its memorable.

• The ones that are witty that makes you re-read till you memorize them so you can share them with others.

• If the book made me think differently and changed my perspective.

• Excellent characters where you feel as if you know personally the person, good or bad.

• Books with an exciting plot that twists and turn.

And the list goes on.

As for me there are several books, fictions and non-fictions that I couldn’t bear to part. One of the books that my family and I enjoyed reading is Island of Blood. by Anita Pratap.

I bought the book in a Colombo bookshop while I was on Global Peace Mission’s trip to send young Malaysian volunteers to Sri Lanka. My wife and all my children loved the book and we still talk about it whenever issues about Tamil Eelam are mentioned.

The book is Anita Pratap’s memoirs as a war correspondent, presenting frontline reports from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and other conflict areas in South Asia.

With intimate knowledge of the conflict in Sri Lanka especially and with details of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), her book provides a great deal of insight into the conflict-ridden nation of Sri Lanka. On several occasions Anita has interviewed Prabhakaran, the elusive LTTE leader and has lived from close range the anti-Tamil incidents in Colombo and Jaffna during the late 80s.

Substance-wise, Anita is far from objective when it comes to Prabhakaran and the conflict. She is praiseworthy of Prabhakharan's charisma and his militant organisation. She describes the fight for Tamil Eelam as a romantic fight for freedom and justice. This may disappoint many history students. While Prabhakaran was once a hero, much of that quality has faded into the opposite whose bloody politics demeans the cause he tried to promote.

What’s memorable, I think, is her writing style and the illustration of herself as a journalist, a mother and a wife. She begins the chapters by describing her personal stories such as a luxurious holiday or her experience of giving birth to Zubin, her only child, before she plunges into the story. Zubin, described as bright, sparkling and witty is everywhere in the book. And there is also her husband’s son who is portrayed as having the opposite character.

Anita seems to have a self-indulgent and self-centered style but it is far from painful to read. And there is also a narcissistic element to her writing. Her epilogues seem to be an exercise in self-glorification. But that makes me more sympathetic to her.

She keeps me entertained and she does not force me to read through or skip so that I can go to the next chapter. It has lots of interesting details and gets me to think and be concerned with the issue at hand as well as the lead character who is the author herself.

And that makes the book memorable to me and my family.