It is the story of Sri Lanka, year 2001, war-torn for fifteen years, bursting with people gasping for fresh breath, a better meal, and peace.
It is also the story of Sam, raised in a tiny village too remote for maps, brought to work in Colombo as a house-boy, finding momentary happiness in a life muddied by difficult days and countless painful moments.
Sam’s Story is told to us by the narrator Sam, a dim-witted, illiterate houseboy, whose lot in life was to tend the gardens and care for dogs in the home of an upper-middle class family in urban Sri Lanka. The story weaves together threads of truth to bring to us a taste of contemporary Lanka as seen through the eyes of Sam. The authenticity of the narrative is indisputable, though its accuracy in terms of fact may be questionable, as all events described are coloured by Sam’s particular perception of the things that are around him.
His story begins at the River house where he finds employment as a houseboy, and ends in his village to which he returns. In between the two, Sam relates episodes from his life; people that have passed through it, events that changed his world, happy childhood hours he enjoyed, tears he has shed, and days he wished he could forget. In counterpoint to these snapshots of the past are descriptions of his life at the River house; a lifestyle far removed from his own background, with people he comes to love, others he’d love to hate, and the myriad events that dotted the otherwise peaceful days he spent there.
The story reaches across the population of Lanka and gathers into its folds a handful of characters, representative of the country’s many faces. Each is a portrait of a hundred - maybe a thousand - faces in Sri Lanka. Leandro the Tamil cook of the household, lords over the kitchen with his grand ideas about the war in the North. The Boy and the Girl - the children of the family studying abroad - only come home during their vacation to visit Madam and Master who commute between countries. Then there is Kaluwa, the son of a rich Mudalali in the village, Sam’s brothers Jaya and Madiya who join the military to fight the separatists. There is old Dal Maama who fishes in the river and Sopi Akka, the lonely middle aged cook woman in a Colombo house where Sam works before he comes to the River House. Interspersed with these are numerous other real and colourful characters that drift in and out of Sam’s narrative.
It is the story of a nation’s sadness and a story that is bursting with laughter. It tells the story of village life, urban life, racial disharmony, global families and political corruption. Yet it also tells the story of egg hoppers, Christmas parties, boxing dogs, love affairs and Gin and Tonics.
But ultimately, it is the story of a country in the midst of an unending civil war and the disease-like effect it has on its people, afflicting every life, and leaving none untouched.