This biography looks at the post-independence history of Sri Lanka (from 1948 on) through the eyes of one of its prominent left wing activists – Lionel Bopage.

Sri Lanka is an example of a country that has paid a terrible price for the failure to convert its ethnic diversity into a wider national loyalty.

It is scholarly study that looks at how the elite who mainly resided in Colombo dominated all the major parties on the island. They played with the fire of ethnic rancour at the expense of national unity to stay in power; whilst ignoring the economic disparities their policies engendered.

The book looks at this failure and its consequences through Lionel’s own story.

His life has been filled with exciting and terrible events: imprisonment and torture, an insurrection which left between 5,000 and 10,000 people dead, communal violence and Lionel’s resignation from the post of general secretary of a major left-wing party because of its opportunistic fanning of resentment against the Tamils. He and his family were forced into exile because of a suicidal war between the state and his ex-party in the late 1980s, a war which resulted in over 40,000 deaths.

It is also the story of Lionel’s enduring marriage to Chitra, who, when he first met her, was a nun. The biography discusses their life in Australia and Lionel’s attempts to reconcile members of the Tamil and Sinhala communities here, attempts which have sometimes been rewarded and which sometimes have engendered bitter resentment.

The book puts the current issue of war crimes into a historical context. The covering up of atrocities and the killing and jailing of dissidents have been constant features of the country’s modern history.

Yet the story has a basic optimism. Despite the violence and the suffering, Lionel attests to an unconquerable hope that he and those like him might bring people together, redressing communal grievances and bringing about genuine power sharing in Sri Lanka.

Michael Cooke

Monday, 28 November 2011

Professor Sisira Jayasuriya review in Groundviews

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