Sri Lankan British author Roma Tearne

This 2013 video from Britain is about author Roma Tearne.

From British daily The Morning Star:

Novelist Roma Tearne

Friday 23 April 2010

by Paul Simon

Roma Tearne’s voice trembles with indignation. “I keep being sent YouTube clips showing the most terrible things,” she says. “In one a 26-year-old disabled Tamil man is being beaten to death by the army and his body thrown into the sea. Who says the war is over?”

While much of the world merely noted in passing the recent defeat of the LTTE – the Tamil Tigers – and the election victory of President Rajapaksa’s coalition, the Sri Lankan-born but British-based painter and author remains galvanised by the island’s descent into fascism.

I met Tearne just before the publication of her fourth novel, The Swimmer. It centres on the murder of a Tamil refugee by the police and like her previous three (Mosquito, Bone China and Brixton Beach) her new work is informed by the terrible events of Sri Lanka‘s civil war, although it is mainly set in Britain.

“As a country Sri Lanka seems to be going backwards during each decade,” says Tearne. “Tamil women and children are living in dire conditions, but the press is not allowed to report the situation.

“The whole business of how the press is treated is a big indication that something is pretty rotten. The international press cannot operate freely, nor can Amnesty or Human Rights Watch. We are moving towards becoming a police state.”

Tearne has not been afraid to criticise the Tamil Tigers either. “They were on a par with, if not worse than the government,” she explains. She spoke with “someone very high up in the organisation in Britain” and asked why the Tigers were engaged in violence. “We are not pacifists and we will fight until the bitter end,” she was informed.

Such comments have caused this rising literary star to be shunned by many in Sri Lanka, the country from which her Tamil father and Sinhala mother fled in the early 1960s.

“I’m ignored by most Sri Lankans,” she tells me. “You can only get my books in one place in the country and there have been no reviews of them. I’m an embarrassment.

“I haven’t been back there since I was 10. My father’s ashes are scattered in Kandy and I’ve been invited back to literary festivals, but I’m making a stand.

“I will not go while there is such censorship of the press. It’s no good swanning off to this type of event and afterwards just sitting by the pool.”

Tearne is a supporter of the Sri Lankan Campaign for Peace & Justice and is clear that what is needed before any enduring peace can be established is a greater acceptance of what has already happened there. This includes a more engaged role for Sri Lankan ex-pats as well as an obligation on Western media outlets not to wilfully ignore the ongoing abuses.

“We need a truth and reconciliation process. It’s all about memory and forgetting – but a society has to remember before it can really forget. It doesn’t have to be in the same form as in South Africa or Northern Ireland but it does need a mediator, and probably one from outside the country.”

Such mediation does not equate in Tearne’s mind to a removal of the obligations upon Sri Lankans themselves.

“We need to find the way out. I really think it’s time to grow up and look at what we are doing,” she says. “What we want is discussion and all sides have got to come to the table. The impetus needs to come from the citizens themselves.

“Women in Sri Lanka have been sidelined, but actually it’s their choice to be so. The question I pose all the time is why are women supporting these murderous men?

“The reason seems to be that it’s a cynical and easy response as people want to normalise their lives. I talk with Sri Lankan women who say: ‘What war?’ They look to their husbands who say that it is ‘all sorted out'”!

The West has to take some responsibility by not giving such positive publicity to the country until they know all the facts and reportage needs to be much more even handed.

“I find it quite incredible that you can pick up the New York Times and they list Sri Lanka as the number one holiday destination, with talk of its glorious beaches, but without mentioning what else is going on in the country,” she says and is adamant that the West should “treat the country like Burma until the press is allowed in and operate freely.”

We return to The Swimmer and she sighs when I ask for her views on race relations in Britain.

“There have always been pockets of intolerance. Maybe we are more aware of it now because of internet coverage. This could also be because of my age but things could really be getting slightly worse,” she says.

She was “staggered” at how she reacted when “that poor Brazilian boy” Jean Charles de Menezes was shot.

“That might have been the point when this story began to gel,” she explains.

“Yet my own children are very optimistic. They belong to the fastest growing ethnic group – mixed-race. They seem to be aware of so many things, are very understanding about refugees and their friends seem to be pretty cosmopolitan.”

Then, brightening suddenly, Tearne concludes: “There is only one hope for us all – mixed-race families!”


The Swimmer by Roma Tearne
(Harper Collins, £14.99)

The Swimmer is an exquisitely emotional reprise of Roma Tearne’s abiding concerns of memory, migration and loss which are articulated through the voices of the lover, mother and posthumous daughter of Ben, a Sri Lankan refugee murdered by trigger-happy police.

Yet the landscape – so vital to Tearne in her previous three novels as a metaphor for her characters’ emotions – is for the first time removed from both Sri Lanka and cosmopolitan Western cities.

Instead, the bleak and seemingly unresponsive Suffolk coast provides a background for Tearne’s attack on the right-wing tabloid obsession with aggregate numbers, focusing on the very particular individuals who are affected both by knowing Ben and his violent death.

Not all of the locals come out of this well, but Tearne is too mature and humanistic a writer to fall into the trap of stereotyping rural England.

The hesitant voice of Ria, the lover, works well. That of the daughter, Lydia, is less authentic as Tearne confers on her an authorial knowingness that extends beyond her years.

But it is in the voice of Ben’s mother Anula, strangled by pain and bewilderment, that one feels most searingly the silent scream of grief.

Sri Lanka’s cartoonists, like Wasantha Siriwardena: here.

In his first press conference yesterday, Sri Lanka’s newly installed deputy media minister, Mervin Silva, warned the media to toe the government’s line: here.

A US diplomatic cable released last week by WikiLeaks confirms the Sri Lankan government’s collusion in the criminal activities of various paramilitary groups, including the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulihal (TMVP), during its war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): here.

Since moving to London in 1980 after serving two years in solitary confinement for his role in the first Naxalite uprising in India, Amarjit Chandan has become one of today’s most celebrated Punjabi poets, with a large following both in India and among the Indian diaspora in Britain and across the globe: here.

13 thoughts on “Sri Lankan British author Roma Tearne

  1. Hi Roma tearne,

    I have just finished 3 of your book and about to embark on your fourth “The Swimmer”
    I am a Librarian in Australia (Melbourne) who is Sri lankan by birth grew up in London till the age of 12 and now live my life in beautiful Australia….. I for the first time ventured dare I say home to Sri lanka in July 2009 after the genocide that took place with much reservations…. I was so sad to see what I saw….. but just be fore I left for my homeward bound adventure I read your book Mosquito…. I too live in a land abundant with mosquitoes ….. I read your book on my flight home and cried all the way….what can I say you are my voice….you put into words all my memoreis and pictures formed from myrents flight and their constant cries of their home they loved… I have consequently read all your books through many tears and shared them lovingly with my colegues and patrons….I thank you for voicing our story!

    Rowanne Grinsted! (Melbourne Australia) our story reaches the far flung places of the world!


  2. Dear Admin,

    Please go ask if Roma had never been to Sri Lanka since 1964? Perhaps, you can ask for a few names of her maternal relatives in SL and talk to them to verify her lies without barking.


  3. Re #6: what lies? It seems that the lies are by the Sri Lanka regime propagandists. You don’t have to go to Sri Lanka personally to know about war crimes. You can see the video recordings of those on the Internet anywhere in the world.


  4. Admin, what exactly is the point you missed about Roma’ s unmentioned visits to Sri Lanka? Just ask her and verify for yourself that she had been to SL several times after 1964? Stop barking and do your bit of own investigations.

    War crimes in Sri Lanka? Yes of course you need not to go there. The terrorist group called LTTE committed countless war crimes in SL. Please come over to Defenceanalytics blog to discuss LTTE terrorists war crimes.


  5. Re #8: if indeed, as you claim, Ms Tearne has visited Sri Lanka after 1964, that probably will have provided a more complete background for her books.

    As for war crimes by Tamil Tigers, in the blog post Ms Tearne herself spoke about that.

    You, however, seem very unwilling to admit the regime’s war crimes.

    See about them here, with the video The Killing Fields. The United Nations spoke about a “bloodbath:” here. See also here, and elsewhere on this blog with search term Sri Lanka.


  6. However, Roma claims that she never returned after 1964, which is an outright lie. That can be used to gauge her integrity. As for LTTE war crimes and bogus allegations about SL, we know where your interests stand. As usual LTTE terrorist live on lies and deceit, and you are no exception.


  7. Re #10: so then everyone, including the United Nations, who points out the extremely well documented (including videos) war crimes by the Colombo regime is a “LTTE terrorist”????? LOL.

    How much does the regime pay you for trolling at blogs?


  8. Pingback: Sri Lankan Muslims about sectarian violence | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: Sri Lankans denounce anti-Christian terrorism | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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