The key phrase to this book is ‘fatefully yet surprisingly interwoven lives’. The extracting of silk and human elements and artfully weaving them into intricate patterns. The title in fact, is gleefully fitting. When I saw it on the book shelf at my local book store, I just knew and my expectations rose immediately, but I’m happy to say it delivered, plentifully. The novel wasn’t beauty and smiles all around, in fact it it makes you sit back and think of how life in the end, does come full circle.
First things first.
Definition of a saree
A saree is a garment worn by women across south Asia (from my knowledge predominantly those of south Indian and Sri Lankan origin). It is a long piece of cloth usually woven in silk or cotton, varying from 6-9 yards in length and 2-4 feet in breadth, that is wrapped around the waist, pleated, tucked and draped over one shoulder. Of course today how you drape, the designs and material all vary given the advent of fashion, but the traditional hand woven silk sarees in its customary designs and drape are highly respected. And yes it is the dress the lady on the cover of the book is wearing and a real life specimen of one is what the book is pictured on 😛
One thing truly made me happy about this book. I know opinions will vary, but I whole heartedly love the blurb of the book. It gives us just enough to be intrigued but not enough to give away the whole story. So here it is for you:
Nila wasn’t born beautiful and is destined to go through life unnoticed… until she becomes a saree maker. As she works, Nila weaves into the silk a pattern of love, hope and devotion, which will prove to be invaluable to more lives than her own.
From the lush beauty of Sri Lanka, ravaged by bloody civil war, to India and its eventual resting place in Australia, this is the story of a precious saree and the lives it changes forever. Nila must find peace, Mahinda yearns for his true calling, Pilar is haunted by a terrible choice, Sarojini doubts her ability to love, Madhav is a holy fraud and Marion’s understanding of the very meaning of love is challenged and transformed. Each teeters between joy and pain, and each is touched by the power and beauty of the saree.
A breathtaking story of beauty, oppression and freedom… and of an enduring love that can never be broken.
I believe life is an art. So it only makes sense that every act therefore in living has to be an art. Passion is key in attaining perfection, and in this story there is no end for passion. Whether it is for a person, for a craft, skill or a dream, an undying fire from within will help one find opportunities in the most surprising of places.
The story in Saree, is predominantly set in Sri Lanka, during the Ealam War. There were rifts between races, and also within races. Life seemed to be a game of who is better than who. Innocents killed, brothers divided, friends turning their backs on each other. Among all this hatred and angst, were instances of purity, love, beauty and friendship. This is an aspect the writer has been successful in capturing in her story.
There’s many things to like in Saree. One aspect is the wonderful descriptions by the author. Be it the character building, the surroundings or even the conversation which are often peppered with the mother tongue of the speakers, the story seems to leap off the pages and one feels the anger of the mobs and the pitter patter of rain as one reads.
Character development was a pleasure to see. We are presented with six very different personalities, each with a different passion in life, and are touched by this one fateful saree. Each story is well planned and each in their own way unique. Each endearing, leaving us devastated at the end. I especially liked Pilar and her story. I was awed by the courage Pilar showed when it came to the upbringing of her son and Raju’s life long memory of his wife.
I particularly enjoyed the factual weave into the fiction. A book from which you can take away something is always good. I learnt a lot about the saree making process from acquiring the silk to spinning it, to weaving then finishing it draping it and the final look of it. You won’t need to take any saree spinning class in your life. Kudos to Ms Dharmapala for the extensive research you must have had to undertake for this 🙂
The book has a fragmented narrative, spanning time, religion, cities and continents and in my opinion, the writer, I’m so glad, didn’t disappoint. Every perspective of the story fit in and overall made for a delightful, page turning read. In saying this I must add that it is quite a long read as well, with a whopping 560 odd pages (in my copy at least). I didn’t actually read the book at a stretch. It felt right to reflect on each chapter after I was done with it for a few days before moving on to the next. Not only were the characters engaging, but the message the writer was inevitably conveying was too hard to ignore.
The initial literary reaction to the book aside, I must stress on the social commentary that has to be spoken of regarding the story. Directly or indirectly, the war touched on the lives of all people living in the country. How does one live with the knowledge of knowing that your best friend could turn his back on you, how could your own family set fire to your fiance just because he was of another religion? Do the emotional scars ever go away, does one ever go back to living normally once the war was over? And yet there was society being cruel even in the face of the imminent death and one young woman worries for her future because her skin is darker.
The emotions in this story are very real, very raw and at every turn there is something holding our protagonists down. Does love conquer all, or do they need to resort to rebellion? I’d recommend this book for all ages, and I, myself will definitely be re-reading this book.
So go ahead pick up Saree some time soon, and lets get talking. If you have already read it, whose story resonated the most with you? What have you heard of the war in Sri Lanka? Lets talk about how wartime literature and how it helps bring out what really matters in life. Do scars heal once its over? Or does love heal all?
Su Dharmapala is a writer, social commentator and a blogger. She released her debut novel, Wedding Season in 2012 by Simon & Schuster, and this novel, Saree was released in 2014.
Here’s a link to one of her interviews. I find it a great insight into how her books came to life.