Anil's Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of a bloody civil war. Enter Anil Tissera, a young woman and forensic anthropologist born in Sri Lanka but educted in the West, sent by an international human rights group to identify the victims of the murder campaigns sweeping the island. When Anil discovers that the bones found in an ancient burial site are in fact those of a much more recent victim, her search for the terrible truth hidden in her homeland begins. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity - a story driven by a riventing mystery.
This is a very deep, complicated but very readable novel about the (deep) past and present of Sri Lanka around the year 2000. It has been in a state of war for decades. Its fighting Tamil separatists in the North and anti-government rebels in the South have caused tens of thousands of casualties. There is an all-pervading sense of fear on the island: asking about the whereabouts of someone close who has disappeared is dangerous, because killers can never be traced clearly to any one of the three warring sides. After long negotiations with authorities in Colombo, a Geneva-based UN human rights agency is given permission to send Anil to Sri Lanka. She has 6 weeks to investigate, then write her report. Anil (33) left Sri Lanka for the UK, then the US 15 years ago, but she is still widely remembered as a swimming champion at age 16. In the West, she became a skillful forensic pathologist with missions to Guatemala and Congo, digging up and probing unlawfully-killed citizens to establish their last living minutes, i.e. their cause of death, and much harder to determine, their identity, name. Sri Lanka’s smells revive Anil’s memories of her youth. A government ‘minder’ helps her through immigration and customs, but lets her carry all her luggage herself. Not a warm welcome. To do her job, she is paired with Sarath (49), a respected archeologist, who has a relative high up in government. Anil wonders if she can trust him… Hope this review makes readers curious: it covers less than 30% of the book’s pages and even less about what happens next. Finally, Anil and Sarath’s laboratory for their archaeological/pathology research is situated deep down in the now rat-infested “Oronsay”. This is the now dismantled, retired luxury liner, which took the author himself to the UK in 1954, brilliantly described in “The Cat’s Table” (2010). Masterpiece.