Cinderzena reviewed Saree on her blog and I just had to get it. I have Sinhalese and Burgher roots on my mother’s side of the family but due to being educated in international and German schools, I don’t know much about the history of Sri Lanka. That’s what I like about historical fiction, you gain an insight into history while reading fiction. You have to be careful that you don’t believe everything that’s written though, as it is fiction.
I’m not a huge fan of books that span over decades/centuries and follow one family through generations. I thought that the saree would be handed down. That’s not what this story was like though. The book follows the stories of six different people (different genders and ethnicities) over the course of 30 years. They are connected to each other through the art of saree making and the one special saree. The author threads the stories together and manages to create fascinating connections between the main characters.
The writing was superb. I loved how the author wove the saree theme into the story. There are six stories that each follow a different main character and somehow even though the events take place in different places and at different times, Su Dharmapala manages to write a solid story with a beginning and an end. My favourite story was about Nila as I was able to learn a lot about saree making through it. Nevertheless, I think all of the stories were perfect.
There are several ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, four of which were mentioned and three groups with named representatives. Other than the description of the tensions between the various ethnic groups, there are plotlines that discuss mental health, colorism, dwarfism, mutism and scarring. I enjoyed that the book was very intersectional and didn’t paint the characters as one-dimensional people.
Otters are mentioned in this book, which is most probably something only I find great. They’re one of my favourite animals and I studied them for quite some time. Also my uncle’s first name and my mother’s maiden name were mentioned in the book!
One of the characters said that lesbians are unnatural. Obviously, I know that there are homoantagonistic people in the real world, thus describing such a character in the book is not the problem. Edit: Nevertheless, I feel like the character should have been called out for their comment. It would also have been great if the story had included a character that was openly queer to balance out this comment.
I usually don’t showcase my favourite quotes, however I really liked these and find they apply to the real world as well:
“I sometimes think that it is easy to be honest only when your stomach is not cramping of hunger, or to hold on to your integrity if you don’t have to send your children to work as servants in someone’s kitchen.”
“And he drummed it into me that the average Sinhala person was no more responsible for the government’s discriminatory policies than an average Tamil person was responsible for the acts of terrorism in Colombo.”
All in all
I love Saree. I was quite emotional while reading it and very invested in the story. It’s a book that covers different types of discrimination: gender, religion, ethnic, skin colour, etc. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a diverse read, as it is also intersectional.
Trigger warnings: rape, murder, physical abuse, terminal illness.
What do you think about reading books that cover a long time-range? Do you have any book recommendations that have a main character that is from Sri Lanka or take place in Sri Lanka?