Penguin Random House is delighted to share that Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island has been shortlisted for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

Subramanian comments:

“It feels a little incredible at the moment to be bracketed alongside these wonderful authors and their books, which I frankly can’t wait to read.  The Prize is an institution in itself, and I’m delighted to be a small part of its history”

He is up against two other PRH titles Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks and Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human as well as Jonathan Bate’s Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes and Emma Sky’s The Unravelling.

The winner will be announced in London on 2nd November.


With the humility of a truly gifted writer, Samanth Subramanian sets out, not to find firm answers to the reasons behind Sri Lanka’s civil war, but rather to be changed and opened up by his journey through this war-ravaged land. His journey becomes ours. The things he discovers, the people he meets, haunt us long after we have closed the pages of this sensitive, poignant book.”
Shyam Selvadurai

This Divided Island
Stories from the Sri Lankan War

Samanth Subramanian

Published by Penguin, July 10th 2014, Rs 499 hardback

“Brutal majoritarians and ruthless insurgents have long monopolised our sense of Sri Lanka. Samanth Subramanian’s sensitive account makes us aware of a missing human dimension. Exploring a war-ravaged landscape, he is bracingly alert to the role of ambiguity as well as ideology in human affairs. In This Divided Island, one of our finest young writers of non-fiction reveals the complicated lives lived in their shadow.”
Pankaj Mishra

From the acclaimed author of Following Fish, unforgettable human stories from a deeply scarred country, still hot from three decades of civil war


  • Driven by curiosity about the scars and legacies of a long war, Subramanian moved to Sri Lanka in 2011. Over the next year, he travelled across the island, and through Sri Lankan communities living overseas, talking to hundreds of people about how their lives were twisted out of shape by the war.
  • In the course of his research, Subramanian discovered what a suffocating and dangerous place Sri Lanka has become after the end of the war in 2009. Writers, journalists and human rights activists work within a shell of fear. Minorities worry constantly about their safety. People mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again.
  • This Divided Island tracks the rise of militant Buddhism, driven by monk politicians who hold extraordinary, extreme opinions.
  • Subramanian examines how war has seeped into every aspect of life in Sri Lanka, altering its very landscape; how people reconcile themselves to violence; how power and history affect each other; and how the war’s embers continue to smoulder and divide the island – embers that, he believes, can ignite into violence all over again.



In the summer of 2009, the leader of the dreaded Tamil Tiger guerrillas was killed, bringing to a bloody end the stubborn and complicated civil war in Sri Lanka. For nearly thirty years, the war’s fingers had reached everywhere: into the bustle of Colombo, the Buddhist monasteries scattered across the island, the soft hills of central Sri Lanka, the curves of the eastern coast near Batticaloa and Trincomalee, and the stark, hot north. With its genius for brutality, the war left few places, and fewer people, untouched.

What happens to the texture of life in a country that endures such bitter conflict? What happens to the country’s soul? Samanth Subramanian gives us an extraordinary account of the Sri Lankan war and the lives it changed. Taking us to the ghosts of summers past, and to other battles from other times, he draws out the story of Sri Lanka today—an exhausted, disturbed society, still hot from the embers of the war. Through travels and conversations, he examines how people reconcile themselves to violence, how religion and state conspire, how the powerful become cruel, and how victory can be put to the task of reshaping memory and burying histories.

This Divided Island is a harrowing and humane investigation of a country still inflamed.

Samanth Subramanian is a New Delhi–based journalist. He has written for the New Yorker, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Caravan and Mint. His first book, Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast, won the 2010 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize in India and was shortlisted for the 2013 André Simon Award in the United Kingdom.