A review by Nalini Haynes
Ruins is set in 2009 in Sri Lanka, following the lives of one family from 5 perspectives. Civil war rages then comes to a close while peer pressure, corruption, bombs and street violence impinge on these 5 very different personalities.
Latha is the servant who raised Anoushka and Niranjan, still responsible for them but without authority over them.
Mano, the father, leaves all responsibility — including financial responsibility — to his wife while he manages a newspaper with declining circulation. Carefully avoiding reporting the real news to avoid censure and probable murder, Mano conceals the truth from everyone: his wife, his boss, his employees, everyone. However, it’s Mano’s stalking of another man’s wife that really creeped me out.
Lakshmi is Tamil but married into the dominant — winning — side of the civil war. She attempts to conceal her heritage while receiving requests for help from Tamil relatives and strangers. She works full-time while struggling with depression and anxiety.
Niranjan and Anoushka are, in many respects, a typical young adult and teenager and yet they’re Sri Lankan stereotypes vying for independence and identity during a tumultuous period in their lives and their country. Niranjan is assaulted and appears to acquire a brain injury, causing physical symptoms and, perhaps, being responsible for a change in personality.
Each character tells their portion of the story in separate chapters, some overlapping, others filling in chronological gaps. The varying points of view are jarring and, at times, offensive. For example, Latha stays up all night cooking for the family for a special celebration then, when she’s struggling with exhaustion and still working over the next few days, Mano accuses her of laziness. Although jarring, these points of view are realistic, creating insight into character and society.
Savanadasa has used the moonstone, an ancient religious artefact supposedly showing the path to Nirvana in symbolic form, as a literary device to demonstrate character development throughout Ruins.
Although Savanadasa is an Australian immigrant, none of his characters emigrate from Sri Lanka. Lakshmi and Mano look for a missing person who may have hopped on a boat to Australia but in no way does Ruins seek to justify this; instead, this tale is more “this is why this happens”. Ruins is all the more powerful for focusing on characters in Sri Lanka while exploring society and the aftermath of the civil war.
Ruins is a character-driven exploration of Sri Lanka as a society, exposing stereotypes and raising awareness of the affects of local politics upon individuals and one particular family. Both literary and sociological fiction, Ruins is an intelligent, engaging novel. Highly recommended.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 352 pages