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Author: Shirani Rajapakse

Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications

ISBN: 978-955-665-142-3

In 2009 the Sri Lankan military finally defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers,) a militia group founded in 1976 that had the sole purpose of creating an independent state for Tamil people in northeast Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers waged a violent, bloody campaign that eventually developed into the Sri Lankan Civil War lasting from 1983 until the defeat of the Tigers in 2009. Author Shirani Rajapakse sets her collection of short stories, Breaking News, against the backdrop of the war in a book that lovers of literary fiction will consider a must-read.

Rajapakse offers her readers several points of view of the war in these nine stories. In the opening tale, “Missing Pieces,” the young soldier protagonist deals with the immediate aftermath of his war injury. Contrary to his original notions, fighting in war does not bring him the glory of a hero that so many imagine. “The Boarder” tells of a young female suicide bomber who moves to Colombo, the largest city in the island country, with a tale of woe on her lips that fools some and a plan of revenge in her heart that kills many. A mother relives on a daily basis the horror of having her husband killed before her eyes and her two young sons dragged away by the Tamil Tigers, most likely to be turned into recruits for the LTTE, in “Photographs in her Mind.”

But Rajapakse doesn’t shy away from sharing humorous moments. As she shows readers, people do laugh even as they turn on the news or open the newspaper for the latest report on military strikes. The title story, “Breaking News,” focuses on just such a situation; a flippant young woman finds herself deeply moved by a newspaper photo of a military casualty, but her casual nature allows her to be distracted by tale’s end. A young woman agonizes about the trials of finding a suitable husband in “Man from the East.” And a young Sri Lankan man suddenly elevates his own social status—in his mind, at least—when he is sent to England by his father to escape forced recruitment by the Tamil Tigers and returns home for a visit in “The Boy from Wellawatte.”

Humorous or heartbreaking, plain prose or philosophical, Rajapakse shows immense talent in this collection of stories. Readers will find it easy to finish the book in a single setting, but they will find it difficult to forget Rajapakse’s elegant turn of phrase and the depth with which she tackles her plots and characters. While the majority of the media may focus on more prominent wars and military conflicts, the defeat of the Tamil Tigers marked the beginning of a new era in Sri Lanka and Rajapakse does her native country complete justice (and then some) with Breaking News. This reviewer highly recommends this book.

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