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‘Prisoner #1056’ chronicles Tamil resilience - Interview with Roy Ratnavel

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Author Roy Ratnavel visited London for the launch of his novel ‘Prisoner #1056.’ Ratnavel’s book, a bestseller in Canada, details an introspective journey, recounting his idyllic upbringing in Point Pedro before turning to the horrors of imprisonment during the armed struggle, leading to his resettlement in Canada. Seamlessly blending personal recollections with historical insights, Ratnavel depicts the pivotal moments of his life while also shedding light on the tragic progression of the genocide. ‘Prisoner #1056’ is a testament to the resilience of the Tamil diaspora; Ratnavel reflects on the strength of those who endured a similar struggle.

Ratnavel’s book started as a documentation of his family story for his son, however his mission soon changed. Speaking to Tamil Guardian, Ratnavel stated: 

“I wanted to tell the story to the world. Not just my story, the collective Tamil story. The idea here is to tell the story of the Tamil community to the world through one person’s lived experience.”

Ratnavel had three audiences in mind during the writing stage: 

“First, those who have directly or indirectly suffered in the hands of Sri Lanka, for them to be able to tell their story through this book and to have this collective cathartic feeling globally. The second is to give a voice to the next generation because I truly believe that there is intergenerational trauma and so many parents would have never discussed their traumas with their kids. Third, is really to give homage to Western nations that took us in and gave us refuge, freedom, choice and prosperity. And to tell non-Tamils the story of Tamil suffering and success and educate them on what actually happened in Sri Lanka.”

Ratnavel further states: 

“It’s not about a book of suffering, it's about a book of success - the Tamil success, my personal success as well as the community overall that fled Sri Lanka.”

Despite witnessing violence, torture in incarceration and the murder of his father, Ratnavel worked hard to become a successful asset manager. Dedicating the book to his father, Ratnavel states: 

“My father’s untimely death left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people. I used the pain from his death as coal for the furnace of my ambition. My father did not send me to Canada to survive, he sent me to Canada to live – his death, my life.”

“The manuscript was rejected by almost all publishers, but I never gave up pitching the Tamil story – never. Because this is not my story, this is our collective story.”

The book was published by Penguin Random House. ‘Prisoner #1056’ became a number one best-seller in Canada.

Ratnavel shed light on the key messages he aimed to portray through his book: 

“First, hard work wins. Second, the importance of having a good mindset, meaning that if you think like a victim, you will remain as one. You have to be a victor; think like a winner not a whiner. Life isn’t always fair, which is certainly true in my case, but you have to be able to fight your own battles and become a victor which takes evolving and changing. Third is really differentiating yourself: try to conquer yourself and celebrate individuality.” 

Dedicating the book to ‘freedom and democracy,’ Ratnavel shows appreciation for the Western nations that helped the displaced Tamil community: 

“Eelam Tamils were determined to overcome our tortured past and build new lives so the next generation would never have to endure the sense of terror that we associate with our ancestral homeland. We gained the gift of freedom and democracy in these nations; it is a collective win of an epic proportion. I want people to embrace freedom and protect it because it is one of the most important commodities and is something worth celebrating.”

‘Prisoner #1056’ is a reminder of the ongoing impact of the genocide. Ratnavel hopes that the book inspires many more to tell their story and pave the way for more literature. 

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