This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian Penguin India 3 stars Kit Gillet "Gradually, in my head, the boundaries between these slices of time - between wartime and post-war Sri Lanka - melted away. The phrase 'post-war' lost its meaning," journalist Samanth Subramanian writes in This Divided Island . When it comes to the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka - in which Tamil rebels fought to create an independent state in the north and east - the counter narratives can be truly exhausting. Ethnic tensions and accusations go back and forth between Tamil and Sinhalese communities, with most simply struggling to move on from a conflict that officially ended in 2009. No one is discounting the possibility of a future flaring of ethnic tensions. In among this it is hard to reach a balanced view of the realities on the ground, or what truly happened in those last months of the conflict when the Sri Lankan army tried to pacify the Tamil north once and for all, but has been accused, by the UN among others, of killing upwards of 40,000 mostly civilians in their zeal. In his second book, following on from the award-winning Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast , Subramanian looks at the last few decades of Sri Lankan history and the divisions that remain. He explores the historic and ethnic divisions, befriending individuals and visiting far-flung corners of the teardrop-shaped island that has supplied more bloody headlines in the past decades than a country its size ever should. Throughout, the reader follows the writer's journey of discovery. It is an approach that feels both natural and nuanced. Subramanian meets a series of intriguing individuals, from Tamil doctors who stayed with the Sri Lankan military despite the growing racism, to Buddhist monks who turned into political firebrands, and former Tamil Tigers who grew despondent over the violent control exerted by the rebel leadership, as well as men and women from all sides who lost friends, family and limbs in acts of wanton brutality. At times the author recounts stories that are almost too harrowing to read. Of unarmed six-year-olds shot through the mouth at close quarters, of the forced recruitment of teenagers into the Tamil Tigers, and of families desperately searching for loved ones who vanished into internment camps at the end of the fighting and have not been heard from since. What comes out is a well-balanced narrative in which none of the major players looks good. Instead, there is a sense that ordinary Sri Lankans, whether Tamil, Sinhalese or part of the Muslim minority, have seen their lives torn apart by the machinations of leaders who were supposed to have their interests at heart.