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5.0 out of 5 stars
The Devil Dancers
Format: Kindle Edition|Change

on 11 October 2011
Here's a rare book that stands out from the crowd. It draws you in and immerses you deeply within the lives of its characters. The narrative is historically accurate and demonstrates deep insight into the spirit of a newly independent nation, warts and all. Also, unlike some books set in post-colonial Asia, it has no British or European characters at all. While the perspective is entirely Ceylonese, the characters are universally credible.

The use of "magical realism" correctly depicts the intertwining of spiritual and physical influences on the day-to-day lives of the characters. Just as many people in the Judeo-Christian west are influenced by astrology, people with more ancient traditions in Asia, Africa and elsewhere add other dimensions to their day-to-day lives in the form of the spirits of the forests, mountains and temples. This trait is undiminished by class, income or education and lives harmoniously in modern societies all over the world. The author has elegantly captured this aspect in the book through the character Hooniyam.

While Hooniyam wreaks mischief, some of the strongest characters in the book are the women who are consistent in their conduct, courage and loyalty. The men are more of a mixed bunch, subject to self-doubt, frailty and acts of cruelty.

The fictional characters interact with actual historical figures, including the Prime Minister Bandaranaike and a powerful Buddhist monk, Buddharakkita, who was very much a mover and shaker of the period. One doesn't have to scratch too far under the surface to realise that these characters' equivalents exist in many governments of today.

The sights, smells, sounds, flavours and colours of the Island of Sri Lanka have been accurately captured along with the linguistic nuances of its people. Their fondness of cricket and arrack; the spices, ingredients, implements and processes used in food preparation; the flowers, birds and animals; the heat, dust and humidity of cities are all described so well that the reader is transported to the ancient palaces, houses, huts, temples and jungles with the characters.

This book stands comparison with other works that I have enjoyed, such as those of James Michener (Centennial, Hawaii), John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, East of Eden) and E. M. Forster (Passage to India). Strongly recommended.
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on 1 September 2017
I thoroughly recommend this book. It follows the characters through the turmoil of the newly independent Ceylon now Sri Lanka. The richness of the writing and the way she has woven the religious/superstitious themes into the narrative are genius. I learnt a lot about Sri Lanka and its history.
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on 12 April 2014
The Devil Dancers is one of those rare books that you come across sometimes that is very special. There are so many aspects that make this such an enjoyable read: The unique mixing of magic and Folklore with reality, the highly perceptive emotional content, the deep insights into the often eccentric personalities and characters... All through, the seemingly inevitable growth of the racial struggles between Sinhalese and Tamils builds tragically but in a way that always retains elements of hope. There is deep love in the writing and a great understanding of how relationships and societies change. It is a very moving book and as I say, totally unique. I really look forward to her next book.
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on 18 August 2012
Beautifully recreated and carefully researched, this is a truly original work. Set in the mid 50s, it observes the lives of the members of a local Tamil family and the impact on them of the increasingly unstable and dangerous political landscape which was to emerge into a vicious civil war.

Lovingly brought to life in all its colours, smells and sounds, the Ceylon of that time is the setting for this vivid and original depiction of the minutiae of family life, which transcends the historical and the geographical to observe the interactions between family members, with unique insight into the human spirit.

By turn sharp, informative, comic, sarcastic and passionate, it quickly drew me in and captured me, leaving me with an awareness and appreciation of this country that I did not have before.

The central love story in this 'Ceylon in Technicolor' would make a stunning film.
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on 7 April 2013
This book has everything, romance, mysticism, political intrigue and history. The reader is carried through such well portrayed scenes, that everything comes to life, the sounds, scents, the emotions. This book was a true pleasure to read, and I delayed finishing the book, as I did not want to reach the end of the book.

I very seldom say that a book is a must read, but this one definitely is. You won't regret it.
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on 4 July 2013
Other reviewers have summed it up far better than I can but this is a glorious book. It brings Sri Lanka, a country I've never visited, to life; the colours, smells and sounds. The characters are richly drawn and their story is one you will want to pursue. I loved it and have just begun T Thurai's latest book, a collection of short stories focussed on the history and legands of Rochester Cathedral, Barley Bread and Cheese. What a talented writer!
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on 17 June 2012
The debut novel of T. Thurai is an ambitious epic, where the tragedy of Ceylon in 1950s is described using multiple point-of-view characters in all its horror. It was an impulse buy I haven't regretted for a single moment; in my opinion, Ms Thurai's book is enough to establish her reputation as one of the leading historical novelists of today. I'll definitely read her future books, hopefully to come.
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on 16 October 2012
This was, quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read. The writing was so imaginative and vivid, I felt I had been transported to Ceylon in the 50's and could literally feel the sun on my face and smell the aromatic spices. A truly compelling story, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone!
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on 31 August 2017
Now that I've finished this, I miss my friends Neleni and Arjan and Asoka and Rani. I loved meeting them and congratulate you on educating me on a topic I would not have discovered otherwise.  I am a lazy reader and don't usually step outside my suburban subject comfort zone.  The Devil Dancers has shown me what I have been missing.  I want to read it again now.
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on 1 March 2012
THE DEVIL DANCERS is a book of `faction', that is to say, fiction based on historical, factual events. Those events took place over half a century ago, in 1958, in the small island of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). 1958 provided a watershed in Sri Lanka's post-colonial history and could be said to have created the seeds of what later became a vicious civil war, based on ethnic, religious and language differences, which lasted for nearly thirty years and which tore this little country apart.

In 1958, I was a young schoolboy of Eurasian (`burgher') descent attending one of Sri Lanka's major English-language private schools outside the capital, Colombo. I remember how the school closed down during the emergency that was declared and how mob rule had erupted and blown away forever the idyllic and peaceful country I knew as a child. At the age of 11 I was suddenly confronted with the trauma of the nasty side of human behaviour and the events of those days led my family to join the exodus of many other English-speaking families to leave the country to join a diaspora spread all over the planet. Over the last sixty years, that diaspora continued to grow as more Ceylon-born families felt forced to leave a motherland which continued to tear itself apart with sectarianism.

Finding ourselves at the tail-end of Empire, having to leave an entire life-style behind and start anew, many of us chose to forget the past and to consign it to history. But, of course, the past can never be forgotten, especially when one finds oneself a stranger in one's own land, a stranger who has little choice but to leave that land and to seek refuge elsewhere. That is the story of the diaspora of which I am a part.

This book had the effect of pushing a lot of buttons, of bringing a vivid recall of that terrible time, the haunting fear of a hysterical mob. Although written around the fictional lives of a group of Sinhalese and Tamils the author has, in fact, drawn heavily from historical events. Their experiences could well have been those of many others who lived through those times.

At the historical level, we discover how a well-spoken Oxford graduate become politician helped to sow the hotbed of national chauvinism that led inexorably to the cultural divisions and violence which spewed out in 1958. That politician, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, it was who engineered the fatal Sinhala Only Act, which while consigning English into history as Ceylon's official language, claimed the country for the majority Sinhalese Buddhists at the expense of all other minority cultures, the largest of which were and are the Hindu/Christian Tamils. Bandaranaike flirted with Sinhalese chauvinism and got bitten hard in return. It finally cost him his life. Sadly, it cost the lives of many thousands of others, leading to terrorism, civil war and the committing of war crimes that are yet to be investigated by the international courts.

In The Devil Dancers we see how an increasingly desperate Premier, Bandaranaike, now worried for his political career, deserts his Oxford background and rational humanitarianism to seek the patronage of a demon demi-god, Hooniyam, promoted in Ceylon in the 1940's by, strangely, a Buddhist monk. In the Devil Dancers, Hooniyam is -almost endearingly- brought to life and we see him flying around the country, helping to bring about chaos and bloodshed as he does so. It is worth observing that although nominally Buddhist, the Sinhalese are a superstitious people who have never quite deserted the Hindu pantheon of gods of their pre-Buddhist past. They have also been fed on a diet of predominantly anti-Indian sentiments and the myth of a golden age of Sinhalese culture culminating in the Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka claiming to be the upholders and protectors of the Buddhadharma. The popularity of sorcery and Hooniyam-worshipping shows just how the veneer of Buddhism among some Sinhalese is quickly replaced by a demonic energy which, in 1958, swept across the land.

The shadow of Hooniyam is ever-present in The Devil Dancers, It reminded me of the famous English author, D.H. Lawrence, who on visiting Ceylon in the 1920's, observed that below the ascetic surface of Buddhism he felt lay something far more primordial which echoed in the hypnotic throb of the drumming of the devil dancers. Was it that psychic undercurrent which led to an explosion of unresolved cultural issues in 1958? After nearly four hundred years of colonial rule, during which Sinhalese cultural chauvinism was effectively suppressed, perhaps it was inevitable that a newly-independent country, suddenly finding itself facing the racial and cultural myths of its ancient, pre-Buddhist past, should blow up in an orgy of violence?

The author of The Devil Dancers uses mythology to explain "historical events as the consequence of supernatural intervention in the affairs of men." [...]

"The use of magical realism ... seemed appropriate when trying to describe the thoughts and beliefs of contemporary Ceylonese at a time when their country was beginning the painful transition from its colonial past to Independence." It is an entirely unmapped territory for which the rational mind simply has no explanation. Yet it is worth considering that the mundane lives of so many in The Devil Dancers were finally decided upon not by rationality but an unidentified zeitgeist...
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