Book Review: Mosquito, by Roma Tearne

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Mosquito is a remarkable love story, set in Tearne’s native Sri Lanka. Theo Samarajeeva is a widower and writer, returned to his home land to finish his latest work. He takes a neighbourhood girl under his wing, Nulani Mendis, who brings light into his world. He sees her talent as an artist, and encourages to paint. He commissions her to paint his portrait, and in the process becomes more enchanted by her. In war-torn Sri Lanka their love story is not straightforward, with the tension of the Tamil-Singhalese conflict running throughout.

Mosquito is an enticing book. Tearne does not shy away from the brutalities of civil war, nor this unconventional love story. Nulani is 17, and Theo 47. It is almost uncomfortable, although this is no Lolita. Somehow it is the manservant Sugi who makes it seem like the relationship is defined in the stars. Sri Lanka is full of curious customs and beliefs that stand at odds with western culture. Sugi makes you believe it simply is the way that it must be. This exploration of cultural difference is a constant theme running throughout the book. Whether this is literal (of place), of age or of status.

In parallel to the unfolding relationship between Theo and Nulani, are other sub-plots. Nulani’s childhood friend, Vikram, being fed a diet of hate and vengeance as a terrorist recruit. Theo’s friends, Rohan and Guilia, who Theo entrusts with Nulani’s safety in the event of the war closing in, which it inevitably does. Rohan and Guilia escape to Italy, their marriage crumbling in the upheaval. Tearne’s writing contrasts with the brutality of these intertwined stories. Tearne paints with her words, and creates vivid, rich scenes. She conjures the vastness of the shoreline and the ocean, the isolation of being imprisoned, and the tragedy of the young Tamil footsoldiers groomed into suicide missions. She never seems to lose a thread, as her characters experience recurring loss and challenges. No one has it easy in Mosquito, and yet it is a book about hope, survival and war.

It is a book that has haunted me, the story’s fingers feeling their way under my skin and through to my psyche. I am intrigued, because I know that I should be uncomfortable, disapproving of the relationship of Theo and Nulani, for all the power imbalances. Yet Tearne allows those reactions to happen, and challenges them in her narration. A beguiling book, and I appreciate having to work to understand it, and myself in relation to it. If that’s a reading experience you enjoy, then read it you must. The exquisite writing itself reason enough to pick up Mosquito.
Mosquito was chosen for my Reading Challenge 2016 as a book that I own but have never read 

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