When Memory Dies

When Memory Dies

The Buddha taught that to live is to experience suffering. Few family sagas, especially first ones, have captured this aspect of suffering and so many other truths in as lyric a fashion as When Memory Dies. Through the viewpoints of three generations of a Sri Lankan family (taking the reader from 1920 to the 1980s), Sivanandan explores a culture destroyed first by colonization, then through the ethnic divisions that are released when the country achieves independence. The family, which lives at a level of poverty that makes survival a constant struggle, must also balance love for one another with a deep love of their homeland. Without bending to romanticism or proselytization, the author evokes a compelling and very human story of a lost country. It is a vision as beautifully told as it is unrelenting in its devotion to truth. In the process, the work also supplies a rich historic background to the often underreported news accounts of the massacres and upheavals in Sri Lanka.

‘An extraordinary storyteller who has total control over his material’ Athol Fugard

‘A brilliant and moving first novel. With a grandeur reminiscent of the great Indonesian novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Sivanandan takes the reader through three generations of a Sri Lankan family. As we move from the days of the hartal in 1920 through independence in 1948 to the neo-liberal pangs of the 1980s, Sri Lankan communalism gathers force like a conquering flood’ TLS

‘This is not just a book about Sri Lanka. The struggles it touches upon, both moral and political, face us all: the battle between our hunger for love or learning or success and our need, even passion, for integrity. This is a book of, and about, many lifetimes’ Melissa Benn, Independent

‘This rich novel, peopled with unforgettable heroines and heroes, will haunt the reader’s mind’ David Rose, Observer

‘Profoundly moving … Sivanandan triumphs in his evocation of a beautiful country he perceives as doomed. His love for the country he has lost is the driving passion of his work’ Evening Standard

‘There is no rallying cry here, no dwelling on the tragedies of the individual, only an exhortation to the memory and constant effort. Sivanandan’s sensibilities and instincts are endlessly humane, generous and perceptive’ Literary Review

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20 Sep 2007
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About the author

  • A Sivanandan

    A. Sivanandan

    A. Sivanandan came to Britain from Ceylon in the wake of the race riots of 1958 - and walked straight into the riots of Notting Hill. Since then he has written and lectured extensively on Black and Third World issues. He is the founder editor of the journal Race & Class and director of the Institute of Race Relations in London. When Memory Dies, his first novel (1997), was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and won the Sagittarius Prize.

    Titles by A. Sivanandan