Book Reviews

Mosquito by Roma Tearne

HarperCollins, Canada and UK; Europa Editions, USA (forthcoming in June 2008)

Mosquito is Roma Tearne’s debut novel set in Sri Lanka during its divisive civil war.  After the devastating murder of his wife Anna, Sri Lankan author Theo Samarajeeva returns from London where he has lived with great literary acclaim to his war-torn homeland to finish his latest novel. Although some welcome his return as a hero, he is criticized by the Singhalese government for being too understanding of the Tamil Tiger rebels in his books. Theo settles in a beach house outside of Colombo with his loyal servant, Sugi, who advises him how to avoid the civil war between the two factions. 

Not long after, Theo befriends Nulani, a young girl he discovers drawing in his garden. Twenty-eight years her senior, she gives him solace and comfort, as if she were the child he and Anna never could have. Nulani is remarkably talented and he encourages her by giving her space within his house to paint, supplies, and introducing her to another Sri Lankan artist, Rohan, living in Colombo.

Throughout the turmoil, art sustains the spirits of the painters and author. Prophetically, Rohan says, "Some say art is our highest form of hope… Perhaps it’s our only hope. Living has always been a desperate business." As if to foretell Theo’s gruesome torture by the Singhalese, Rohan adds, "Life is full of pointlessness. Not just now there is a war, but always, before. It’s the nature of living. And the wounding of beauty, that’s all part of it… First you possess it and then you lose it. Art represents that aesthetically."

Spanning Sri Lanka, London and Venice, the characters find their lives descend into perilous uncertainty. The war itself, which erupts after Singhalese is declared the official language of Sri Lanka, is portrayed as shallow and foolish. "They are killing each other… Day after day. Over which language is more important."

When Theo is captured and tortured (a case of mistaken identity, he’s later told), his memory sustains him. But then his memory fails him and it seems nothing can bring back the Theo he once was, the writer, the artist, who risked all for his passions: writing and Nulani. The atrocities underline how neighbor can turn against neighbor, how the young are systematically brainwashed, and how callous and devastating a civil war in a small country like Sri Lanka can destroy the heart of its people.

Reviewed by Pam Chun