A Time of Questions

By (author): B Devakanthan

Translated by: Nedra Rodrigo

The KANAVUCCHIRAI quintet develop the context of Sri Lanka’s tragic civil war. As the youth in the island village of Nainativu realize that their education and prospects are being curtailed by an increasingly Sinhala majoritarian nationalist government, they begin to rise up in opposition. Volumes 1 and 2, through its main characters, the young woman Rajalakshmi and her betrothed, Suthan, described the growth of the armed struggle from the 1980s onwards as the young people sail to Tamil Nadu in India to join the resistance.

Volumes 3 and 4 return to the micro-environment of Nainativu and the main island of Sri Lanka and the Tamil struggle as it takes shape there. Volume 5 returns to the surviving characters from the first two volumes, and serves more as an afterward that places their story in a global context, as international actors enter the scene. These novels also bring in other characters that speak to the different political and ideological movements at the time: both militant and pacifist, leftist and nationalist. Devakanthan shows how different political movements drew inspiration from each other, and how divisions appeared and grew within what was first seen as an unshakeable organization.

Devakanthan’s characters are richly detailed, both male and female protagonists endowed with internal lives. The quintet thoughtfully and sensitively narrates the story of simple men and women trapped within a national struggle. As a whole it describes how a movement united by lofty goals begins to fall apart, as disagreements appear and former allies go their separate ways.

The quintet won the Government of Tamil Nadu Novel of the Year Award (1998) for THIRUPPADAIYAATCHI (His Sacred Army), and the Tamil Literary Garden’s Best Novel Award (Canada, 2014).


B Devakanthan

Devakanthan (Bala Kumarasamy) was exiled by the war in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s and lived in India before moving to Canada. He lives in Toronto and is an active member of the Canadian Tamil literary scene as author and arts critic. He is a reader of Sanskrit and ancient Tamil, and has drawn from those influences in some of his works, such as Lankapuram and Kathakalam, being reimaginings of the Ramayana and Mahabarata. His Sacred Army, the first volume of the quintet, won the Government of Tamil Nadu Novel of the Year Award (1998), and the quintet as a whole received the Tamil Literary Garden’s Best Novel Award (2014).  


Nedra Rodrigo

Nedra Rodrigo was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada during the civil war. She is a translator, poet, workshop organizer at the York Centre for Asian Research, and arts educator for youth in the York Region District School Board. She is also the founder of the Tamil Studies Symposium at York University. She is the founder and current host of the bilingual, inclusive literary event, the Tam Fam Lit Jam. Nedra’s poetry and essays have been published in various anthologies. Her translation credits include the poetry of R Cheran, Puthuvai Ratnathurai, and V I S Jayapalan in the collection Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia; the memoir In the Shadow of a Sword, published by SAGE YODA Press, India (2020); Kuna Kaviyazhakan’s “Forest That Took Poison,” shortlisted for the inaugural Global Humanities Translation Prize; and the Prison of Dreams quintet. She lives in Toronto.


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224 Pages
8.20in * 5.50in * .70in


August 31, 2021



Book Subjects:

FICTION / Literary



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