Brixton Beach Paperback
by Roma Tearne
Opening dramatically with the horrors of the 2005 London bombings, this is the profoundly moving story of a country on the brink of civil war and a child's struggle to come to terms with loss.
London. On a bright July morning a series of bombs brings the capital to a halt.
Simon Swann, a medic from one of the large teaching hospitals, is searching frantically amongst the chaos and the rubble.
All around police sirens and ambulances are screaming but Simon does not hear.
He is out of breath because he has been running, and he is distraught.
But who is he looking for? To find out we have first to go back thirty years to a small island in the Indian Ocean where a little girl named Alice Fonseka is learning to ride a bicycle on the beach.
The island is Sri Lanka, and its community is on the brink of civil war.
Alice's life is about to change forever. Soon she will have to leave for England, abandoning her beloved grandfather, and accompanied by her mother Sita, a woman broken by a series of terrible events.
In London, Alice grows into womanhood. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she has a son. Slowly she fulfils her grandfather's prophecy and becomes an artist. Eventually she finds true love. But London in the twenty-first century is a mass of migration and suspicion.
The war on terror has begun and everyone, even Simon Swann, middle class, rational, medic that he is, will be caught up in this war in the most unexpected and terrible way.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 432 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 07/01/2010
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780007301560
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by gaskella
This is one of the books chosen for the C4 TV Book Club, it’ll be featured at the end of February. Although I thought it looked interesting I wasn’t in a hurry to read it, but then the publisher offered me a copy as the Oxford-based author is coming to my local bookshop Mostly Books in mid-March to take part in a special book group evening – then I couldn’t resist. It is a wonderful book, so I am really glad I read it.Roma Tearne is Sri Lankan, and fled the country aged ten to live in England, where she qualified as an artist, (the cover artwork is her own). She is now a creative writing fellow at Oxford Brookes, and this is her third novel. All her novels are set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War from 1983 onwards; it had grown out of the Singhalese independence movement which had marginalised the Tamil minority, leading to the ‘Tamil Tigers’ thirty year campaign to create an independent Tamil state. It finally ended in 2009.The novel tells the story of Alice, who has a Singhalese mother and Tamil father; she is just nine when the war starts. It’s increasingly hard for a mixed family to live in Colombo. Father, Stanley has applied for passports for them so they can move to England. He’ll go first, and find a job and a house, Sita and Alice will follow. Her beloved artist grandfather Bee wishes they wouldn’t go, but has hopes of a better life for them, as they’ve already suffered. Sita lost her second baby due to the drunken negligence of a drunk doctor who wouldn’t treat a Tamil. By the time Stanley sails for England, his relationship with Sita is effectively over, but they have to go. It’s too dangerous for them to stay with Bee; anyone with Tamil connections could be rounded up by the army, and never heard of again. Alice and Sita arrive in England, to stay in a dingy, dark house in South London. Sita can’t stand the cold and damp climate, and retreats into her shell further. Stanley doesn’t stay for long either. Alice is left to forge her own way, and she begins to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps as she shows talent at art too.The author has managed to conjure up an utterly compelling portrait of life in Sri Lanka at the start of the unrest, and the waves of tragedy that besets the Fonseka family. She captures perfectly Alice’s struggles to come to terms with all that happens to her, and her chance of finding real happiness. After Alice, Bee, her grandfather is a fantastically well-drawn character, artist, patriarch, and compassionate soul who is willing to risk all to help those in need. The heat and humidity of the troubled paradise contrasts keenly with the bleak urban strangeness of London. The novel however, starts off with a prologue set on the day of 7/7/2005 when bombs went off in London, bringing home to us the similarities of what had happened in Sri Lanka decades before.This was a deeply affecting read for me, and you can’t help wondering how autobiographical it is – I’ll get a chance in a few weeks to find out when we meet Roma. I found it far more compelling than Brick Lane, and I will look forward to reading her other novels too. I highly recommend this book.
Review by DubaiReader
Review for the Audible version.I listened to the Audible version of this book, beautifully read by Charlotte Stevens. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it less if I had read the hard copy.The story is basically that of Alice Fonseca who is 9 years old when we meet her at the start of the book. She is living in Sri Lanka with her parents; a Singhalese mother and a Tamil father. Unfortunately this cross cultural marriage causes problems as Sri Lanka heads towards civil war in 1983. The problems are poiniantly illustrated by the loss of Alice's baby sister who is still-born due to a lack of adequate medical care, soley because the baby's father is Tamil. Alice's mother never really recovered from this event, leaving Alice with only her Grandfather - Bee, as moral support within the family. When Alice and her parents leave Sri Lanka for England and safety, she feels entirely alone.Brixton Beach is quite a depressing story. In spite of the wonderful descriptions of Sri Lanka in the first half, the general mood of the book is more akin to the correspondingly drab descriptions of life in England in the second half. I would have liked a little more joy in the book.In my opinion Alice ended up with the wrong man (won't say more for fear of spoilers).I would also have preferred that the book had not started with the London bombings of 2005 - they could have been more effectively simply added at the end.In addition, I didn't particularly like Simon and didn't really see the point in the reference to the opera-loving beauty that he saw in his youth and subsequently searched for at future operas.A good read but overall I preferred Bone China by the same author.
Review by ilurvebooks
A beautifully written book about love and art and the sadness of one's lives...very impressed can picture in my head the beauty of Sri Lanka and the horrors of a senseless war....
Review by jayne_charles
This book contains tragedy on a grand scale. Just when it seems we are done with the heartbreak along comes a little bit more. The matter-of-factness with which much of it is described makes it, if anything, more hard-hitting.In the novel the central character Alice leaves her native Sri Lanka at a time of massive social unrest, and moves with her parents to London. This journey takes place at around the halfway point of the novel, and the rest covers her growing up in the UK. I did think the early stage dragged a bit – the fact that the family were to move was flagged up in the synopsis on the back cover, and early on in the story, and yet for 200 pages the status quo was more or less maintained with those pages covering a few months compared to the 30-odd years left to the second half. I learned three key facts from the first half. Tamils were badly treated in Sri Lanka. Alice had a great relationship with her grandparents. Sri Lanka has fantastic beaches. I felt sure these facts could have been conveyed in fewer pages leaving more space for the later characters who were starved of oxygen. Tim we barely got to know, and Tessa and Cressida were convenient caricatures.What the book did do, however, was send me off to google the troubles in Sri Lanka, which as the author was at pains to point out, were largely ignored by the West. If she set out to put us all in the picture as regards how brutal it was, she has succeeded.
Review by sianpr
This is one of the most intense narratives I've read. The story centres around Sita and her daughter Alice Fonseka, and their family's experiences of the conflict and civil war in Sri Lanka and the migration to London of Sita, Alice and their father while the rest of the family stays in Sri Lanka. The story centres around family and loss; the loss of a child, childhood, family members, marriage, homeland, identity and eventually life itself through acts of terrorism and civil war. There are no happy endings - the moments of happiness and hope are short lived. Roma Tearne's story may well be informed through autobiography and there is no doubting the power of her writing and her ability to conjure up place and mood - the descriptions of the sea and coast in Sri Lanka are vivid. However, my main gripe with this story is the unrelenting despair and the way any glimmer of hope is soon snuffed out. While this may well be the case in real life for many migrants- particularly those fleeing war zones, this doesn't need to be the case in a novel where it is possible to offer alternative versions of life- at least for migrant children and the 2nd generation, and to offer the characters a greater protagonist role. I'm glad I've read this book but I'm not sure I'll be queuing up to read any more.