Ruins is a contemporary novel narrated from multiple points of view.
Latha is the Tamil servant of a family at a crossroads of change. The family consists of the disturbed teenage daughter, Anoushka, the bumbling, passive-aggressive husband, Mano, his Tamil born, anxious wife, Lakshmi and their selfish, angry son, Niranjan.
The time frame is the end of the decades long Tamil Tigers civil war in 2009.
As the chapters cycle around for a second look at each characters POV, Savanadasa cleverly nudges us to see that our first opinions may not have been entirely accurate or complete. For a debut writer there is a great deal of assurance in his ability to create nuanced characters and layers of meaning.
As the civil war ends they’re all forced to deal with their Tamil connections. Niranjan steps up, Mano disappoints, Anoushka falls apart, Lakshmi becomes obsessive and Latha finds a kind of peace.
For a more detail synopsis of the story, check out Lisa’s review @ANZLitLovers.
At the end of her review Lisa asked me who my heart was with during this book (she was moved by Anoushka and Latha). After the first half of the story I was also with Latha but also the well meaning Mano. However the second half saw me embrace Anoushka and Niranjan. Their fragility and insecurity broke my heart.
As many of you already know, I adore Indian literature, which means by extension, I also love Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi literature.
There is something about this area of the world that fascinates me. The history, the food, the culture and the land are all so very different to Australia that there is no doubt an element of exoticism to my fascination.
However, like my love of Chinese literature and history, there is also a desire to understand the people’s of the two most populous areas on our planet.
The waxing and waning of their power, their views of the western world and how their physical worlds helped to form their culture and religion have always enthralled me.
So much of our world view is Eurocentric (with a great big dollop of US bluster), that it’s refreshing, encouraging and sometimes confronting to read about our world from a different perspective.
Savanadasa gives us enough information about the various castes, with their propaganda and prejudices to make sense of his novel as well as leaving the likes of moi, wanting to know more, much more.
The tantalising Buddhist concept of rebirth is explored throughout Ruins and Savanadasa tells us at the end that he has loosely based the book on this concept too.
The Moon-stone or sandakada pahana is a semi-circular slab that features in Sri Lankan architecture and represents the neverending cycle of rebirth. The four animals following each other around the outer circle, the elephant, horse, lion and bull, symbolises the four stages of life – growth, energy, power and forbearance or birth, disease, decay and death.
The vine, liyavel symbolises the worldly desires that can entangle us and the swan represents the ability to see the good and bad inside all of us. The central lotus symbolises the final goal of rebirth, or samsara – Nirvana.
I wish I had known this before starting the story as it gives the journey of the five characters extra meaning.
Latha is obviously the swan who undergoes a kind of personal transformation at her nephew’s funeral which allows her to experience a state of living nirvana or true insight, to the envy and disbelief of the other characters.
Ruins was an engrossing read, rich with promise and local detail.