As a child Thisuri watched her mother write. Malraji Wanniarachchi is the author of several novels and short story collections. It is no surprise that Thisuri followed in her footsteps.
First, Thisuri wrote in the Sinhala language. The Sinhala short story ‘Thaththa’ which she wrote at the age of 11 won a national short story competition. With time Thisuri switched her medium of writing to English and at the age of 12 she sent in her work to an all-island short story competition based on experiences of the 2004 tsunami. Thisuri’s short story ‘The Wind’ won the first prize.
Thisuri studied St. Bridget’s Convent Colombo from kindergarten till her Ordinary Level exams. It was during her time at St. Bridget’s that she wrote her first novel ‘Colombo Streets’. Around the same time she became the first-ever Sri Lankan to receive a scholarship to study writing at the prestigious Kenyon Review of the United States. At the Kenyon Review she was mentored by some of America’s top authors.
After sitting for her Ordinary Level exam she received a full scholarship to study at British School in Colombo. While at The British School, Thisuri’s ‘Colombo Streets’ won the State literary Award for Best novel of the year. Thisuri is the youngest author to win this prestigious award.
The same year Thisuri was nominated to represent Sri Lanka at the Iowa International Writers’ program of the University of Iowa, which is the most celebrated writers program in the United States. The program’s Directors revealed that Thisuri was the youngest author in the world to ever be nominated for this program.
After her Advanced Level exams she was offered the rare opportunity of a 75% scholarship to study for her undergraduate degree at five of America’s top universities – Hampshire College, Amherst College, University of Massachusetts, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College.
While in Massachusetts Thisuri was offered a full scholarship to transfer to Bennington College, where she is today a second year student studying political economy.
Bennington College is a very selective college and admits only around 100 students a year from all around the world. It is the alma mater of great poets and authors such as Nobel Laureates T.S. Elliot and W.H. Auden and Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai. During her first year at Bennington Thisuri wrote ‘The Terrorist’s Daughter’.
‘The Terrorist’s Daughter’ is the story of the privileged youth of a post-conflict society. Civil wars can go on for decades, but when they do come to an end they are like thieves in the night. They just end, leaving entire generations of people orphaned, confused and traumatised. Everyone talks about the death tolls, the war crimes, the winners and the losers, the heroes and fallen villains. But nobody talks about that invisible third party; the children. ‘The Terrorist’s Daughter’ is the story of those invisible children.
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke praised the book saying it is Sri Lanka’s best post-war novel and went on to say that Thisuri has written the road map to reconciliation and that the book is a manifesto for Sri Lanka’s Government.
Thisuri Wanniarachchi who recently launched her second novel shares with Shaveen Jeewandara the insights that gave her work its life. “Who are you, if nobody knows your story?” Thalya, the terrorist’s daughter, asks the world as she embarks on a mission to find her true identity. Taken away from her roots at an early age, Thalya struggles with the pieces of her life scattered across continents.
The decider of Thalya’s destiny is 20-year old Thisuri Wanniarachchi, author of ‘The Terrorist’s Daughter’. “My second book explores the emotions of a girl who fights for her true identity,” says Thisuri explaining that the terrorist’s daughter is an embodiment of the loss of identity plagued by the war. Thalya, the protagonist, is adopted by a diplomat at an early age, as she spends most of her life basked in the riches of society. But as the flashbacks keep haunting her, Thalya heads back to the country to find her roots and her journey is spiced with romance, and purpose.
“Terrorist’s have daughters too, don’t they?” questions Thisuri. “Although the book is a snapshot of the way I see the world, it also gives insight from a lot of different perspectives.” She aims to amalgamate ideals from all walks of life and present it in a digestible way to readers. Thisuri first started writing in Sinhala, and went on to win the national short story competition held by the Ranaviru Seva Authority. “The Wind”, another story by her was awarded best English short story at the National short story competition organized by the Ministry of Law reforms on Tsunami Rebuilding Efforts. While her biggest break came when she clinched the State Literary Award back in 2009, at the age of 16, having addressed the 30-year conflict and the pressing issue of cancer in her book ‘Colombo Streets’.
“It was nice to break ground, and I remember being very excited about the award.” It was a wave of mixed counsel that Thisuri received before going ahead with the book, especially since she started working on it at the age of 14, but it was her resilience that saw the book reach publication and eventually the award.
“I’m glad that I went ahead with my gut and published it,” Thisuri says. ‘Colombo Streets’ speaks of two girls from different backgrounds, Indeevari and Sara as they meander through the strife of war and cancer. “I wanted to voice the suffering of children and youth in Sri Lanka, and cancer was a pressing point. I began writing the novel with an intention to write a story that would inspire cancer patients and leave them with hope.”
Her success paved the way for a scholarship at the Hampshire College, Amherst and later to the Benington College of Arts. “It’s a refreshing experience and it feels good to be around students who share the same creative potential,” Thisuri tell us. “I have gained a lot of insight into writing, and have broadened my horizons.”
Thisuri’s mother, Malraji Wanniarachchi, is a keen author herself. “A lot of my writing was influenced by watching my mother write, and I started penning down stories in Sinhala to begin with,” recalls Thisuri. For her, writing about the thirty year conflict was almost second nature as she would travel up North with her father, a senior officer in the Sri Lanka Army, and see the changing facades of life. “I’ve always listened to his stories,” she tells us.
Having acquired her mother’s gift of writing and her father’s flair for story-telling, a young Thisuri has proceeded to find her own imprint. Having impressed the public with her first novel, the young author is all geared up to awaken literary senses with her latest.
The Terrorist’s Daughter by Thisuri Wanniarachchi
The Terrorist’s Daughter by Thisuri Wanniarachchi, which is the second novel of the author, was launched on August 14 at Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo. The novel is based on the socio-political issues of the youth in Sri Lanka. Thisuri’s first novel was Colombo Streets for which she won the National Literary Award for best novel of the year 2010. This feat made her the youngest Sri Lankan to write a local bestseller.
The Terrorist’s Daughter as the title suggests is about a girl named Thalya Hattrem who is the protagonist of the novel and is the adopted daughter of Amy Fowler-Watt and Sven Hattrem and biological daughter of LTTE intelligence leader Pottu Arman and Kshatri, who was also a female battalion leader of the LTTE. The story begins as a love story between Thalya and Chithesh who is President’s youngest son and winds up when Thalya gets married to Chithesh and gives birth to a baby girl. The novel is based mainly on Sri Lanka and its way of governance. Thisuri anchors the fiction in reality. However when the story develops the writer focuses on serious issues like corruption, long term war effects and even topics like love, abortion and faith in God.
Throughout the novel the writer maintains the idea that no matter how bad the situation is, there is hope and one should believe in God. She believes that Sri Lanka has so much potential to recover from the consequences of armed conflict. Profound criticism of the country’s current situation, what should the authorities do and what they should not do are quite evident in the novel. The writer has gone into the heart of the problem which is how the country should build the future after suffering from a 28 year civil war.
While reading the novel the reader will realize that the incidents described in the book are quite relevant to Sri Lanka. Some characters are exactly the same. However the writer has tried to disguise them by letter-swapping the names. Terms like ‘Dharmadasa Regime’, ‘Pottu Arman’, The Buddhist Affairs minister, D.M Jayathilake are some of the terms she has invented in the novel to bring out the irony, sarcasm and also to make it more effective as well as interesting for the reader.
The writer expresses how the politicians fool their voters to obtain power. One of the characters, Sharitha who is interested in entering politics says, “People like my uncle won elections just by telling people they should be proud to be Sri Lankan.” Thisuri however points out that what should be changed is the system and the system consists of people who are in fact corrupt. Who need to change are the people and not the Leaders. The author also reiterates the fact that a country cannot achieve a pure democratic society overnight post war.
The passages of the novel have a flow. The use of words and her style of writing are fresh. The attitude the writer has toward the subject matter is very appealing to the reader since her approach is humane. The striking way in which she uses words to bring out real life situations of ordinary citizens is admirable and sensitive.
Thisuri discusses the idea that God is great and he treats everyone equally, fair and square. The writer says that people are used to blaming God for their ill fates and they are reluctant to accept the fact that one creates his or her destiny. “We refuse to believe that we are stronger than our fears, larger than our limits and more than just a name. We would rather praise our successes and blame our ill fates to an external God. We refuse to take responsibility for our fate or what we do with it.”
Yet another very fascinating point the writer tries to make is that no one inherits the ability to love another. It is an emotion which is intimate and private therefore unique.
“Love is not a universal feeling that comes out of the same cookie cutter,” the writer expresses.
The writer expresses her own thoughts on love. “Love is like a permanent damage to your heart. Once it happens it will always be there,” she writes. One could say that the writer is not mature enough to talk about love and emotion. But when you read her novel the reader does not feel that she is still a young girl. This is because she reveals such profound ideas on love. “Love does not go away. Love grows into you, and stays within you. Love is infinite.”
The writer ends the novel with the notion that life will continue regardless of what happens. She explains that it is the ultimate reality of life. “…the world will revolve with or without them. The colors will still be in the sky. And life will go on.” However she passes on the strong message that hope will keep a person going, no matter what happens.
The Terrorist’s Daughter by Thisuri Wanniarachchi is a book written by a sensitive human being who is in love with Sri Lanka and who hopes for a better future in the years to come, a future enriched with humanity. It is a simple yet a very inspiring work of fiction. The author bases her novel on a casual love story, but uses it as platform to discuss, analyze, and criticize and to provide a long term solution for the future of the country.
Honing her craft
|The Mirror Magazine which featured young writer Thisuri Wanniarachchi following her stint in the US, catches up with her on her recent success at the State Literary Awards|
|The State Literary Awards are a celebration of local literature, appreciating and recognizing the past year’s most riveting and powerfully written works. However this year’s awards were especially memorable, for amongst the ranks of the immensely gifted Sinhalese, Tamil and English authors stood 17-year-old Thisuri Wanniarachchi , the youngest writer to ever claim the accolade.
When Thisuri stepped up to claim her award for Best English Novel from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, she was essentially assenting to the fact that she had just punched her way to victory over such local literary heavyweights as Gratiaen Prize winner Prashani Rambukwella and the very popular Ashok Ferry.
“It was so unexpected, and I just feel really happy and greatly encouraged to win such a respected award,” a clearly contented Thisuri stated. The vehicle that had driven her to this success was her 2009 novel ‘Colombo Streets’, which she astoundingly wrote while just fourteen.
Its plot revolves around a girl named Sarah, who aspires to be a top ranked swimmer before she is afflicted with cancer. This tragedy places before her several obstacles which she and her family, which includes her adopted war scarred sister Indeevari, have to surmount.
She said that the central theme, of suffering through the trials of cancer, in ‘Colombo Streets’ was a situation that she could easily identify with as she had known and encountered a lot of people who were battling with the disease.
“My father is also an officer in the Army and I have travelled with him many times to the war affected regions of the country so that also helped me gain an understanding of life in such an atmosphere,” Thisuri explains, referring to the inspiration behind her story’s other strongly resonating theme. Currently Thisuri is working on a new novel which is still in its early stages and the young writer will be hoping to exhibit the growth she has enjoyed as a writer during the two years since Colombo Streets. Amongst the major catalysts for this literary maturity was a recent two week workshop in the United States called ‘Young Writers’, for which Thisuri served as the only Sri Lankan attendee.
“That gave me a lot of useful experience and really showed me the flaws of my current style and new techniques I could incorporate into my writing,” Thisuri reveals.
As an emerging writer she wants to continue to hone her craft and progress gradually while also focusing on her other immediate goals, such as completing her schooling. Nevertheless, considering the enthusiasm, confidence and undeniable talent she exudes, it would be foolhardy to bet against her procuring more literary honours in the future.
For the love of writing
|David Stephens speaks to young writer Thisuri Wanniarachchi on her recent stint overseas to hone her skills|
|As a burgeoning writer striving for perfection, Thisuri Wanniarachchi sought an avenue which would take her someplace where she could hone her literary ability. After running a google search she eventually located her chosen destination, a workshop for aspiring teenage writers, all the way in America.Titled ‘Young Writers’ the two week workshop, held at the Kenyon College in Ohio, was conducted by eminent literary magazine The Kenyon Review, to help roughly 80 school-going students excavate their inner writer. The workshop’s participants came from all parts of the world, namely England, India, Greece and China, with sixteen-year-old Thisuri being the sole representative from Sri Lanka.
“Everyone was divided into groups of about twelve people and was given a group leader. My group leader was Zach Savich, a respected and published poet,” Thisuri reveals.
Lessons during the two weeks focused on a range of topics from poetry and story writing to group readings and discussions. There was also a two day break in proceedings, during which time the students were able to let their hair down and interact freely with each other, so forging deeper friendships.
“I was able to experience a bit of the American way of life as well, like when I went for a Bonfire party. That was something I have never done before. It was very entertaining,” Thisuri explains. She goes on to elaborate that the workshop enlightened her on the failings of her writing style and of new techniques she could use.
“The most important thing they kept stressing was how to structure your writing. This was something I didn’t have in my writing before and something that I now feel comfortable incorporating in to my work,” Thisuri says.
The work she refers to is not merely the school essays she probably hammers out with relative ease but proper published literary work. Thisuri has so far authored two books, one, ‘Colombo Streets’, was published last year while her other completed novel is yet to be released.
Thisuri began writing ‘Colombo Streets’, a book which revolves around the turbulent life of a young girl named Sarah, when she was only 14. In a certain sense the successful publication of this book had a bearing on her securing a spot at the workshop, because she sent copies of newspaper articles reviewing her book as part of her application for the programme.
Her published work greatly impressed all the people gathered at the workshop but it was the remarks of The Kenyon Review Editor, David Lynn, which satisfied her the most.
“He was very impressed with my work especially since English is a second language to me. Most Americans have languages like Spanish as their second language and they aren’t particularly comfortable with them,” Thisuri states.
One of the more competitive exercises staged during the two weeks that Thisuri excelled at was the ‘Writers Fight Club’. This was an activity in which each participant read from the work of their favourite author while members of the audience judged their performance.
Thisuri selected Arundhati Roy, which helped her progress all the way to the quarterfinals, while her friend Nicole, in a gesture that highlighted the close bonds that the students had built over the two weeks, chose Thisuri.
Thisuri remains deeply grateful to the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis and Thissa Jayatilake from the Fulbright Commission, for their tireless efforts which were instrumental in making her journey to Ohio possible.
She also expresses further gratitude for the constant support and encouragement she receives from her parents.
After at first being daunted by the prospect of being alone in a foreign country, Thisuri concludes that the atmosphere she encountered at the workshop served to both keep her mind at ease and provide her with an experience that was wholly unforgettable.
Professor Sunanda Mahendra
colombo streets, a short novel by Thisuri Wanniarachchi,
Vijitha Yapa publications May 2009,
Rs. 300This maiden creative effort by a 14-year old Sri Lankan writer revolves round the character of a upper middle class young girl called Sarah. She has been gifted with quite a lot of skills inclusive of sports and studies. She is being looked after by her parents who live with her grandmother, who is portrayed as a talented business-minded lady who has a hand in the promotion of her son’s business dealings.As a result she, though busy, tries to manage the domestic front, looking after Sarah, her brother Nirvan and an adopted girl, who is evidently a family member.
She is Indeevari who has lost her parents as well as family connections, which is gradually revealed as a sub narrative in the central experience of the life of Sarah.
While Sarah, Indeevari and Nirvan grow up to be young and talented, a strange fatality befalls on Sarah which disturbs the tenor of sensitivity of family links. Sarah though a gifted swimmer as well as an athlete, gets a cancerous growth for which no stone is left unturned in the medical field at home.
Then they proceed to Singapore to get more treatment, which presumably does not change for a better state. What is most striking about this narrative is the way the ballad-like situations are revealed with a restraint effect on the reader. I am sure the writer does not fall into the pits of banality and sentimentality which would have been visualised in such a narrative as this.
To be frank I remembered the popular novel ‘The Love Story’ by Eric Segal which was also made into a popular film. Though the comparison is not at all regarded, it must be emphasised that Thisuri’s narrative has similarities which she would not have known. But I don’t want to make any further comparison on this point. May it be said in good earnest that the short narrative or novella, Colombo Streets is a welcome variant to the existing pattern of most humane stories we pick up easily from book shelves. Most significantly the narrative is page moving to the point that a reader of my calibre visualises the subtext or the inner layer much more vital than the mere upper textual layer of the storyline. In 23 short chapters, Thisuri draws the attention on a pivotal protagonist Sarah and the family members as entrapped in a complex web of fatality. But the point in focus is that the young girl Sarah, despite her return with a disgusted mood of sorrow, is given a spiritual dose of healing process, which is the moment of illumination. What else can an individual stoop down to do, when all the medical discoveries fail to bring back the required recovery? The narrative in this vital moment of illumination highlights that even some of the age old perhaps believed to be irrational rituals, may be a certain degree of solace to a grieved person. May this not be regarded as a serious psychological nuance in the life of a person in turmoil?
As the narrative flows the reader too encounters certain moments where the depiction of the generation gap too is fused. The habits and the patterns of behaviour in young and old dare not strange. But the duality of this nature edifies the narrative in certain ways. The writer has a penetrative skill in the use of the dialogue over shadows, authorial comments. I was touched by the words:
“Sarah and her parents sat in the doctor’s consultation room for the doctor had gone to the washroom to return. It was now three months since they returned from Singapore. If the doctors were right, Sarah can’t be alive by now. The monk had said to Sarah that compassion is the medicine for all diseases and she believed it. She was now a vegetarian. So was her whole family. Hours of meditation and yoga made her feel stronger.
The situation of the attitude of Sarah develops a point where she feels better as she contemplates, as she comes home.
‘Nothin can last forever’ Sarah thought. She looked out of the shutter. She could see a rainbow appearing through the clouds. ‘Things will change’, she thought. ‘They always have’. (103pp)