In This Review

In My Mother's House: Civil War in Sri Lanka (The Ethnography of Political Violence)
In My Mother's House: Civil War in Sri Lanka (The Ethnography of Political Violence)
By Sharika Thiranagama
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, 320 pp
Purchase

The complex events of Sri Lanka’s nearly 30-year civil war are told here from the bottom-up viewpoint of Tamil and Muslim families that suffered at the hands not only of the Sri Lankan government but also of the Tamil insurrectionary movement and, for a time, of an intervening Indian force. As an anthropologist, Thiranagama is interested in how uncontrollable eruptions of violence dislocate people’s lives. The Tamil Tigers said they were fighting for a “Tamil homeland,” but their people lost everything from houses to social networks to traditional social identities. Thiranagama interviewed people who had survived the death of loved ones and the loss of property and somehow reconstituted their lives in Sri Lanka or abroad. But they found their personal and family roles blurred, ethnic identities made more rigid, and barriers heightened between individuals and communities. Moving from event to event and shifting among individual narratives, historical events, and anthropological theories, the book does not quite come together. But it leaves a profound sense of the victims’ unfathomable losses.