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4.0 out of 5 stars66
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on 23 April 2011
I echo the voices of other reviewers who state that the description of Sri Lanka was enthralling and beautiful. The first section of the book was absolutely absorbing and I really felt I had stumbled across a gem of a book.

However, as soon as Alice moves to London, it was as if another author had taken over from Tearne. The characters were one dimensional, Alice's abandonment of her beloved grandfather and best friend was incomprehensible (even with the explanation that she was `angry').

The book took a really strange pace as the chapters progressed (a chance meeting on one page, jumped to a marriage, child and divorce on the next). It bounded at a silly pace quite honestly that jarred against the slow highly descriptive first section. I have thought perhaps this was intentional - to show the contrast between her life in Sri Lanka and the life she had in London where she never felt she belonged. But quite frankly it doesn't work, and it is very difficult to find any connection with characters that are so swiftly introduced and removed again, in a matter of pages, thus making it difficult to really understand Alice's reaction and emotions.

I don't agree that it was `too sad', life is no picnic! However it attempts to tackle some hard hitting issues in both Sri Lanka and London that don't quite marry together in this book, it felt as if the author had spread too thinly, not really getting to the core of either issue.

I was so very disappointed with this book. It took me a matter of hours to get through the first, beautiful section, only to force myself for weeks to finish it. It's a begrudging two star - so much potential wasted!
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on 14 May 2012
Clearly from other reviews, this book is a bit of a Marmite thing. Many readers love it, but I'm afraid it left a bad taste in my mouth. Having created a bunch of characters, the author seems to have spent a lot of time imagining the worst possible outcomes for them. A baby dies at birth, a husband is brutally attacked, a beloved child is snatched and murdererd, and an elderly couple butchered at their own home. And there's much more ... Many readers have found the writing beautiful, and I did enjoy some lyrical descriptions. It is also illuminating to find out about just how terrible the conflict in Sri Lanka was at the time. However, I also agree with the reviewer who said the ending is 'a deus ex machina of the worst sort', as it only serves to confirm the thrust of the plot - that 'life's a bitch and then you die.' Alice's late love affair with Simon the surgeon feels a bit contrived and over-written and it seems to arrive as something of a non-sequitur - unless it is another deliberate evocation of the randomness of fate. I admit the child Alice is enchanting and well-realised, but I feel she grows more and more sketchy as the novel moves on. I was mourning the loss of the 9 year old Alice long before the horribly inevitable finale. My advice would be to see how you feel after reading a few chapters - if you're not keen, save yourself a lot of misery and leave it there.
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on 27 July 2009
Roma Tearne's third novel - like her first, Mosquito, which I also recommend - centres on a young woman, an aspiring artist, who initially learns about life, love and much else against a background of inter-racial violence in Sri Lanka. But when her beloved grandparents insist that Alice Fonseka's mother take the girl to England for her safety because of her mixed parentage, will she be any more secure there?

Brixton Beach is beautifully realised. Though Alice, her mother Sita and her grandfather Bee are the three chief protagonists, the author's use of multiple narrative points of view allows us to come to know much of the other characters' thoughts and feelings.

The book is awash with colour, whether it be the deep blue of the Ceylonese sea and the dazzling sunlight of Alice's childhood beach or the muted hues of London's buildings and temperate climate. Colour is mixed up with emotional clarity too, and Sita and Alice find that the memories they cling to in order to shape and maintain their view of themselves can also become a prison.

Is assimilation really possible, or even desirable? What does it mean to be born in one country and grow up in another; and what are the implications for British-born children of parents from far-off lands?

Richly detailed and moving, Brixton Beach is ultimately hard to put down.
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`Brixton Beach' opens dramatically with the horrific events of the 2005 London bombings - a beginning that immediately pulled me into the novel. The descriptions of the after-math of the bombing are vividly drawn, quite disturbing and very thought-provoking.

The story then moves back thirty years to war-torn Ceylon - and concentrates on the story of Alice, the daughter of a Singhalese mother and a Tamil father. The major character in Alice's life is her grandfather Bee - a strong, brave man with family values and the good of his country at the heart of everything that he does.

As a child of parents from two different cultures, Alice is treated as something as an outsider and after a tragedy within the family she and her mother follow her father to England to find a better life.

The novel is a story of homeland, identity and relationships, and these are all tested when the family are in England

This is a colourful and descriptive novel which I enjoyed immensely, towards the end of the story I found it very difficult to put down. The ending is dramatically written and the story ends on the same day that it begins - the July 2005 London bombings.

I think this novel would spark some fascinating book group debate and will certainly stay with me for quite a while.
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on 11 October 2010
While the novel's opening is very arresting, and the descriptions of Sri Lankan life and the conflict's impact on those involved are very well observed, I felt the book was spoiled by its contrived ending. The problems begin with the arrival of Simon, whom I found to be emotionally stunted and unsympathetic - with all that time spent in his room listening to Tosca and mooning over lost opportunities in his youth, as well as being generally useless, it's no wonder his wife dislikes him! Considering the background of her father's betrayal of his family (which Tearne omits to reference), I also found it hard to imagine what the normally empathetic Alice saw in him. Certainly, the author deals with his desertion of his family very matter of factly. All in all, he is very self absorbed and I found this hard to like - he wasn't exactly deserving of the heroine and the far more suitable Janake was dismissed as quickly as Tessa. It's a shame - as a writer, Tearne is highly descriptive and evocative. But I felt the ending was rushed.
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on 9 July 2010
"Brixton Beach" by Roma Tearne is a touching and beautiful piece of novel. It journeys during the 1970's. This refers to the time when there was civil unrest at Sri-Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon). The author shares the experience with readers. The central characters Alice and her mother Sita experienced the situation affecting the country. Alice's mother was a Singhalese and father Stanley was a Tamil. This created discontent and tension.

It takes a deep look at childhood during the schooling days and the close relationship with grandfather Bee. Bee was considered an exemplary person. He respected everyone for who they were. Sadly, as the situation escalated, Alice and her parents were left with no choice but to leave behind the native land and embark on a fresh life in UK. Life was not easy as they had little money, lived in very poor conditions and had few friends. It took a deep toll and changed their lives forever, which is very sad to read about. It moves forward to the present times, when Alice becomes a parent and the memories haunt her.

Brixton Beach recaptures a difficult time facing a country and uses characters to show what life was really like. It cannot be easy for the author to write a novel of this nature, as she experienced the situation herself. It has to be praised for the manner it is written, but it really stayed in your mind, as it so emotionally touching and sad to read.
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on 28 July 2010
I just loved this book. I lived in Sri Lanka as a young teenager, and reading this book just brought back the smells, the sights, the sounds, and importantly it taught me a lot about the war that I was quite childishly obliviously to when I lived there. It's a story that really makes you think, and complete sucks you into the world of the Fonseka family. I really enjoyed the slightly slow start to the book, allowing the characters to develop and become so deep and engaging. The story was so enjoyable to read and two months on I'm still thinking about it. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good in depth characters and a wonderful story that really evokes the feel of a whole other culture and lifestyle.
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The first half of this book is set in Sri Lanka and is beautiful and evocative, full of colour, laughter and joy. The second half is heart wrenchingly sad. I read the second half with a permanent lump in my throat. It is the vitality of the first half that makes the second half so tragic. But for me none of this is what makes the book so memorable and kept me thinking about it for weeks after I had read it. The greatest achievement of this book is to give a name and a face and a story to what have become just numbers in the news these days. The book starts with a terrorist attack in central London, it then goes back to tell the story of one of the faceless "numbers" caught up in the attack. It is this life story that still haunts me, long after reading this beautiful book.
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on 21 November 2010
This is principally the story of Alice, born in Sri Lanka and taken by her parents to Britain at the age of 9. Like Roma Tearne herself, Alice is of mixed race, with a Tamil father and a Sinhalese mother. Brixton Beach, however, is a true work of fiction and not a fictionalized autobiography.

The story is told against the background of racial violence which has afflicted Sri Lanka since 1958. Roma Tearne as a writer is ostracized in her native land. "Brixton Beach" is sold in only one bookshop in Sri Lanka, one catering mainly to foreign tourists. No newspaper in Sri Lanka has reviewed any of Tearne's four novels.

The most important person in Alice's life is her grandfather Benjamin, whom everyone calls "Bee". Bee lives in an idyllic beach-side location in Sri Lanka where Alice experiences the happiest days of her life. From Bee, Alice learns to be a painter and sculptor. Her separation from her grandfather at the age of 9 is a terrible wrench, but the images of the beach in Sri Lanka and the associated emotions are forever imprinted on her psyche and are eventually transplanted in Brixton, hence the title.

During their last year in Sri Lanka, Alice's mother Sita loses her baby in childbirth in a horrific episode of deliberate neglect. This part of the book is painful to read but is an essential part of the story. Sita's experience leaves her a life-long emotional cripple, and the drama of the book is in seeing how Alice survives as a person after having effectively lost the two most important people in her life.

In the final part of the book we see in descriptions of Alice's painting and sculpture ingenious and startling images of redemption. No other writer has recorded so faithfully or with such compassion a bleak period in the history of the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, and the character of Alice is one of the most memorable in modern fiction.
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on 4 October 2012
This novel begins in Sri Lanka in the 1970s. Alice is a young girl and Sri Lanka is being split by ethnic tensions. The daughter of a Singhalese mother and a Tamil father, Alice's family embodies this tension.

The early chapters of this novel are a chronicle of a Sri Lanka that is disappearing, of routines and rituals that are in their dying days. Alice's parents decide to emigrate to Britain, where they feel they will be safer. The British drabness is in stark contrast to the sun-filled Sri Lankan ease, and safety comes at a price as Alice's parents become distant to each other and Alice must find her own way.

This novel is one of my growing library of novels written by people whose childhood was marked by immigration to Britain and as a result have a foot in two different cultures. Their writing is infused by this experience and I find that they offer a fascinating journey into the questions of identity and cultural values, something which has always interested me.

Overall, whilst I certainly agree that this novel is, in the words of 'The Times' on the back cover, 'rich and satisfying, written with a painter's instinct for the beautiful' I do want to add that it is also unrelentingly sad, one of the saddest novels that I have read for a long time - so you might want to bear this in mind when you buy it.
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