This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘Song of the Sun God is about the wisdom, mistakes and sacrifices of our past that enable us to live more freely in the future.
‘Nala and Rajan, a young couple, begin their married life in 1946, on the eve of Ceylon’s independence from Britain. Arranged in marriage, they learn to love each other and protect their growing family, against the backdrop of increasing ethnic tension.
‘As the country descends into a bloody civil war, Nala and Rajan must decide which path is best for their family; and live with the consequences of their mistakes.
‘Over time, Nala and Rajan teach their family why some parts of their history and heritage are worth holding onto; and why some parts and people have to be left behind.
‘Song of the Sun God spans three continents and three generations of a family that remains dedicated to its homeland, whilst learning to embrace its new home.’
In Song of the Sun God, by Shankari Chandran, we follow three generations of a Tamil family from Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka in 1972), from matriarch and patriarch Nala and Rajan’s early lives in 1932, to 2010, by which time they and most of their descendents have migrated to Australia.
In the intervening years, the couple raise three children – Priya, Nandan, and Dhara (the daughter of Nala’s cousin Mohan, lovingly and seamlessly absorbed into the household after her parents become victims of war) – and become grandparents, then great-grandparents.
The family stay in their homeland for as long as they dare, but eventually the civil war comes too close to home. Only Dhara stays in Sri Lanka, as she feels called to provide medical care to Tamil casualties.
Reading Song of the Sun God was such an emotional experience! The author describes whimsical domestic scenes, brutal war crimes, and everything in between, with such skill that you can’t help but be moved.
I fell in love with all of the principal characters (the story largely focuses on the women’s experiences), but especially Rajan and Nala, because I got to know them so well over the course of the book, and they’re so warm and kind. Their very different personalities complement one another and generate a great deal of humour.
There are lots of tender, touching, and funny interactions, with my favourites being those between particularly young and old characters. I also enjoyed seeing family lore and in-jokes, favourite stories from the Mahabharata, and individual characters’ tastes and quirks emerge and resurface throughout the novel, building up a convincing collective memory.
Embarrassingly, I didn’t even know there was a civil war in Sri Lanka before I read this book, let alone that it went on for 26 years and ended as recently as 2009. It was interesting to learn about both the country and the conflict, with many of the war scenes being (necessarily) breath-takingly shocking.
I was also fascinated by the characters’ migration experiences: why they chose to leave or stay in Sri Lanka; how leaving was a last resort for Rajan and Nala, who had the longest and strongest attachments to the country; how they stayed in close contact with those they left behind despite the distance; and what they held on to from Sri Lanka and picked up in Australia, in terms of both physical objects and cultural customs. Nala’s newfound veneration of Oprah really tickled me!
Song of the Sun God is a fascinating, tender, and humorous family saga.