Brixton Beach

Written by Roma Tearne
Review by Waheed Rabbani

On 7 July 2005 in London, Doctor Simon Swann rushes out of his hospital onto the streets and into the aftermath of an incident in a Tube station and a blown-up double-decker bus. There are mangled human bodies lying all over. Although he is anxious to help the wounded, he is also desperate to reach a house named Brixton Beach to ascertain the safety of a woman.

Earlier, in 1975, nine-year-old Alice is being taught to ride a bicycle on a beach in Colombo, Sri Lanka, by her Singhalese grandfather. Her mother, Sita, had married a Tamil, Stanley; facing discrimination, and to escape the bombings and the brewing civil war, they move to London. Years pass. Stanley has affairs and becomes friends with fellow Tamils, and Sita develops dementia. Alice becomes an artist, names her house after a beach, faces typical life-changing events, and meets Simon at an opera.

Roma Tearne, herself of Singhalese-Tamil parentage, has penned this novel, her third, in her usual lyrical style. About half the book, set in Colombo, provides an authentic look into the lives of the Sri Lankans and the discord between the Singhalese and Tamil peoples. The other half gives insight into the Sri Lankan immigrant communities’ struggles in Britain. The first chapter’s vivid account of the 7/7 terror attacks in London is immediately followed by somewhat tranquil descriptions of little Alice’s days in Colombo. Although the opening creates intrigue, and we might think that either Alice or her Tamil father might have something to do with that event, it is only toward the end that we learn the facts. While there is no linkage between the Tamil bombings in Sri Lanka and Al-Qaeda attacks elsewhere, Ms. Tearne has brought to light the overall global conflicts.