Nayomi Munaweera is the author of the novel Island of a Thousand Mirrors. Born in Sri Lanka, she lives in Oakland, California.
Q: How did you come up with your characters Yasodhara and Saraswathi?
A: I don’t really know how to answer this question. I think that the character comes to the writer when the writer is ready. Of course, some part of each of these characters is me -- but also it’s a matter of plugging into a different persona.
It’s a little like acting. You sort of inhabit or try to inhabit a different life, a different persona. It’s a little like being possessed. You walk around talking in various voices. It’s quite a strange process that I don’t really understand even as I engage in it.
Q: How was the book’s title selected?
A: It had a completely different working title that the original Sri Lankan publisher did not like. Then there were three agonizing months when the publishers, my editor, myself and my partner tried to name the book. We came up with 80 titles. Yes you read that right -- 80! I was losing my mind when we finally found the one that became the title.
Q: What kind of research did you do as you worked on the book?
A: There wasn’t a lot known about the Tamil Tigers when I was writing the book so that was what I most needed to research. As well as various aspects of Sri Lankan history. I needed to check when certain events in the war happened.
The novel is of course, fiction. But it also loosely follows the timeline of the war. There are historical moments, for example, the race riots in 1983, and for these moments I did extensive research -- mostly survivor accounts.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Lionel Shriver, Margaret Atwood, Vladimir Nabokov, Arundhati Roy, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Shyam Selvadurai, Joyce Carol Oates, Milan Kundera.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My second novel, which I am editing right now, is about the darker parts of American maternity. I can’t say more than that!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Island of a Thousand Mirrors was a labor of love that took me five years to write and another five to publish. I do hope you will read it. So much love to the tribe of readers!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb