Mosquito by Roma Tearne (HarperCollinsAustralia)

In the most terrible times of history, fairy tales are born. Princes marry fair damsels despite all obstacles in stories that are told and retold during times of plague, starvation, and never-ending war. When daily living is hopelessly, helplessly, and routinely endangered, stories emerge that keep the human spirit alive, and survive to become enduring literature, as the works of both the Brothers Grimm and Pramoedya Ananta Toer have done. In this same tradition comes a breathtaking and beautiful first novel from Sri Lankan artist and writer, Roma Tearne.

Theo, a middle-aged writer and widower, returns to his native Sri Lanka after decades of British life, during a time when civil war is driving others away from this country. He explains his return as a search for sunlight, but in truth Theo leaves safety for danger because he believes that he has nothing left to lose. He is a man without emotion, frozen by grief, searching for words.

Nalini is a girl who has learned to live a silent life. After watching her father burn to death on the street, leaving only black dust for his daughter to touch, Nalini has found that lines drawn on paper are more comforting than words. She draws and paints unceasingly and when Theo, as a local celebrity, comes to speak at her school, Nalini discovers that he is someone whose image she wants to put on paper.

Caught first by her tenacity, then her talent, and then her beauty, Theo begins to look for Nalini's presence in his life. Commissioning her to paint his portrait, he is amazed by the new life and youthful eagerness that Nalini gives to his painted image. Slowly an affinity develops between the seventeen-year-old artist and the forty-five-year-old writer, one that is carefully observed and understood by Theo's manservant, Sugi.

As he watches the silent girl, whose "unhappiness had blotted out her light," and the grief-stricken middle-aged man, both take on renewed life when they are together, Sugi is frightened by what he sees and they refuse to acknowledge. "They are both such children," Sugi realizes, "The girl is too young, and he is too innocent." In a country where the sounds of the night can presage death,Sugi knows that Theo and Nalini hear only what will enhance the new world that lies between them, and that it is up to him to protect them--if he can.

Surrounding the enchantment that envelops this unlikely couple are people slaughtered in road ambushes, child soldiers who kill without pity, and corpses who have died from torture and are found hanging from trees. Falling in love in a landscape of unspeakable beauty, in a country where peace is an illusive luxury, "a place spiralling into madness," Theo and Nalini are brutally and terribly separated when,inevitably, what Sugi fears comes to pass.

Fairy tales endure, not because of their happy endings, or because of their triumphs of good over evil, or their messages that true love will conquer all. The strength of a fairy tale is found in the exaltation of the strength of the human spirit and the agony that it can withstand. What a fairy tale provides is the realization that it is possible to be damaged and then healed, homeless and then secure, and that the power of story can keep hope alive. Perhaps more than ever, people need the message found in a fairy tale. In Mosquito Roma Tearne brings that message to a world that seems to be going back to a dreadful future.