Sam’s Story by Elmo Jayawardena (Gratiaen Award winner of 2001, The State Literary Award Winner)
Genre: Fiction, War
Published by Vijitha Yapa Publications in 2001
Rating: ♥♥♥♥ on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon India
or Amazon UK
This story is narrated by Sam, an illiterate houseboy born in a village too remote for maps. He travels to the nearby city to work in a river house as a domestic servant. Sam finds momentary happiness in a life muddied by difficult days and painful moments. It is about the tears he shed and the days he wished he could forget, of the people he loved and the others he loved to hate.
Reaching across Sri Lanka, this is a story of a country gasping for fresh air in the midst of unending civil war and the chronic trauma it creates in its people, afflicting every life in every race, leaving none untouched.
In my view:
Sam’s Story is written in the first person narrative by author Elmo Jayawardena about a poor, and a dim-witted boy (who’s intelligent than most of so-called normal people) and about his experiences when he was working as a servant in a river house in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Earlier, he was living in a faraway village with his family among unprivileged, impoverished people. They hardly had things to eat, to wear; simply the amenities were beyond scarce. Then his life changes when he gets a job.
The story revolves around only a few people in a few locations, but enlightens about greater problems such as ethnic conflict and war which took place between Sinhalese-the majority- and Tamils -a minority- in Sri Lanka, and how it affects these few people in the story.
It becomes very interesting to see the day to day life that clashes with these greater problems, in a dim-witted boy’s eyes. However, though the narrator is dim-witted, the reader is able to understand in no time that he is more intelligent than even the leaders of the country. It could be deduced by the way he thinks about the war from the beginning. He says that this war is meaningless. “Meaningless would be closer to the truth of what happened in this stupid war.”
Albeit, it is written in the protagonist’s point of view, the perspective of every character in the novel is revealed in a subtle manner. The collisions between the perspectives of each other because of ethnic differences or social status differences were illustrated in an explicit way.
The story and the characters are as real as the people we meet in day to day life in urban cities. As I said earlier, every character is substantial and touches the reader’s heart in different ways.
Moreover, the story explicates the treatment of the government towards poor people. The ways that elections take place, how hapless people are influenced by powerful people in the village, how their lives change aftermath elections, interest readers who would like to know about different countries and their societies.
Simply, this story is about how life was in Sri Lanka during the wartime, and how the war affected all people despite ethnic or rich-poor divisions. This is not about just Sri Lanka, but talks about all-time universal issues which could come to pass in any country under any circumstance.
All in all, this is a critically acclaimed great story about love, despair, death, hope, jealousy and everything which could interest a reader who loves humans.
Here are a few lines which I loved the most from the novel.
- “When you are poor, you cannot even afford something as cheap as a smile.”
- “It was difficult for me to understand what life was all about. So different for so many of us, with none of us having any clear answers to all the questions we had.”
- “This war seemed certainly a poor man’s war.”
- “They were fighting a war on separate sides, a war they never wanted to fight.”
There is a movie adaptation for this novel, titled Samige Kathawa – the same title of the book. The movie was directed by Priyankara Vittanachchi, and depicts the sorrow, happiness and the confusion of the main character and how he perceives an unfamiliar environment and his unique response to it. Furthermore, the movie comprises all conflicting moments of interactions between the characters. The main actor, Jagath Chamila, who’s a veteran actor in the Sri Lankan actors’ fraternity, has successfully diluted himself into Sam’s character and successfully displayed all the emotional dilemmas he came across in the household of river house. He bagged the Best Actor award – New York International Film festival (2013) for his splendid performance as the innocent Sam. The movie also won the Special Jury Award at Fourth SAARC Film Festival.
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