TOtimes Books: PRISONER #1056 by Toronto’s Roy Ratnavel is an intriguing story about making your own luck
TORONTO, Monday April 24, 2023 – This book should be a must read for junior high school students…and for parents who want to see their kids grow up with a sense of personal responsibility. It proves that people who work hard, make their own luck and if they have a dream, it’s up to them to make it happen.
Author Roy Ratnavel manages to put together an autobiography, a little history of the Sri Lankan civil war, a lot of politics, and a warning about the West – especially Canada – moving too quickly on the woke and cancel culture and what it might lead to.
Ratnavel takes us back to the place of his childhood to Sri Lanka, an island off the south and east coast of India. It was a British colony until 1948. It’s comprised mainly of two ethnic groups – the Sinhalese to the south with about 75 percent of the population; the Tamils to the north. Once the Brits left, the Sinhalese took control of the new government and began to make life miserable for the Tamils: Sinhala became the only official language. Sinhalese were favoured in education and government jobs. Buddhism (Sinhalese) was promoted; Hinduism (Tamils) was discouraged. The Tamils felt persecuted and began to resist, but to no avail.
Despite it all, Ratnavel, a proud Tamil, had a decent childhood – except that his dad had a government job in the southern capital city of Colombo. It meant he was only home on weekends, and then by Ratnavel’s teenage years, only a few times a year. His father had a sense of the coming ethnic conflict and spent a lot of time with his son: riding bikes together, teaching him the importance of doing well at school; teaching him about self reliance and the value of family and lessons on how to be the “victor” not the “victim”. Ratnavel idolized him. Then came 1983 and the brutal civil war that went on for over 25 years. The Sri Lankan Army invaded the north with nightly bombings, “butchery and recreational sadism” (states Ratnavel). His hometown was destroyed, and at age 17, he was carted off to a southern prison where he was tortured. Ratnavel was able to get out from prison torture with help from a Sinhalese friend of his father.
Time back home was short as his dad realized Sri Lanka held nothing for his son. He spent days preparing the boy for a new life in Canada and warned him to “Study hard. Work hard. Do what the locals do to assimilate.” Thus began the journey of trying to “reconcile the two worlds”: his past in Sri Lanka and his future in Canada. Sadly, it started with word his dad had been shot dead – one of the 65,000 killed in the civil war. The war and the haunting dreams of prison torture continued for years and left him struggling to deal with “survivor’s guilt”, all the while figuring out how to climb the Canadian corporate ladder to achieve success with an asset management group. It’s about survival, sheer determination and hard work (at one point Ratnavel held three jobs). It follows the path of how Ratnavel arrived in Canada with $50 in his pocket, then rose from the mailroom to the executive suite of one of Canada’s largest independent asset management companies.
This moving story is not unique among immigrants to Canada. Certainly not for those fleeing oppression. What is unique about Ratnavel’s story is his determination to do whatever it takes to find the future his dad wanted for him. The author is not afraid to admit to personal flaws and making his share of mistakes but has learned from them. Not many dull moments in this life. His writing style is passionate, to the point, almost conversational. Gloves come off in the final chapter with the dramatic changes he’s witnessed in Canadian culture. Not all of it is good. Scale of 10…8.5
Prisoner #1056: How I Survived War and Found Peace by Roy Ratnavel. Copyright ©2023 by Roy Ratnavel. Published by VIKING, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited
By Laurie Wallace-Lynch
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