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Tamil Tigress

My story as a child soldier in Sri Lanka's bloody civil war

Niromi de Soyza    
Availability: Out of print
Format: Paperback - C format
Pages: 320
AUD $32.99inc. GST
Tamil Tigress


More about this book

In 1987, 17-year old Niromi de Soyza shocked her middle-class Sri Lankan family by joining the Tamil Tigers. Equipped with a rifle and cyanide capsule she was one of the rebels' first female soldiers. Now married and living in suburban Sydney, this is her story of her time as a guerrilla.


Two days before Christmas in 1987, at the age of 17, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as part of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting government forces in the bloody civil war that was to engulf Sri Lanka for decades. With her was her lifelong friend, Ajanthi, also aged 17. Leaving behind them their shocked middle-class families, the teenagers had become part of the Tamil Tigers' first female contingent. Equipped with little more than a rifle and a cyanide capsule, Niromi's group managed to survive on their wits in the jungle, facing not only the perils of war but starvation, illness and growing internal tensions among the militant Tigers. And then events erupted in ways that she could no longer bear.

How was it that this well-educated, mixed-race, middle-class girl from a respectable family came to be fighting with the Tamil Tigers? Today she lives in Sydney with her husband and children; but Niromi de Soyza is not your ordinary woman and this is her compelling story.

Niromi de Soyza speaks fluent Tamil and Sinhalese and writes vivid beautiful English. For many years she worked for the Red Cross in Sydney, where she still lives with her husband and two young children.

ISBN: 9781742375182
Australian Pub.: July 2011
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Subject: Memoirs
Edition Number:

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Reader reviews

'This biographical retelling of the author's early years in Sri Lanka is rivetting stuff! I quickly became absorbed in Niromi's story of how she became a fighting member of the Tamil Tigers, and found it hard to put the book down as the story progressed. The retelling of her early years is beautifully descriptive, I found her style of writing a real pleasure to read. I had such a clear image in my mind of her life in Sri Lanka - vivid descriptions of the houses and towns she lived in, the strong connections of family and friends, the foods eaten, the local plants, the oppressive heat. The description of her immersion into a terrifying life on the run as a Tamil Tiger is gripping and suspenseful. Her total sense of loyalty to her Tamil Tiger allies, her devotion and commitment to fighting for freedom, and the sense of guilt at abandoning her family is heartfelt. That she managed to survive and escape Sri Lanka when most of her Tamil Tiger friends did not, makes an incredible and brave story.' - B. Rossi, VIC

'The Tamil Tigress is an idealistic, independent, courageous young woman, wielding an AK-47 and willing to die for what she believes in. It is impossible not to be engaged in this woman's struggle from the beginning of Tamil Tigress. The subject matter is controversial and emotional.

I was captured by Niromi's journey and wanted to find out more. I did find that the book took a little longer than desired to get started, and it sometimes felt that I was getting an overdose of explanation of ethnic background and history at the expense of moving along with the action and story of Niromi's adventure as a child soldier, but perhaps it was necessary to get a better picture of why the Tamil's were fighting and what motivated Niromi in the first place.

Once Niromi joined up with the Tigers, it's a great story. There is a good mixture of description of camp life, a bit of romance, and a lot about the tugging of loyalties between family, friends and the Tamil cause. Many of us can relate to being pulled one way and the other in our lives and not knowing which way to choose, but not many of us have had to make choices like Niromi, where to live by an ideal might mean to kill a friend, to devastate family and to bite on a suicide capsule, and the further she went down the road of making choices, the more difficult it might be to turn back.

There are several references to "brain-washing" in the book and it was an interesting story to read in terms of understanding how a group revolution and rebel cause like this might work. The group fought for a cause Niromi, our heroine, believed in, but also engaged in some practices she was shocked at and disagreed with, yet she found herself staying with ad supporting the group all the same. Are such groups that much better in principle than that which they fight against, and are their actions absolved because of their "cause" – or do such practices mean they are almost certainly going to become corrupt or abandoned?

At some points I felt that Niromi's story could feel a little preachy as she espoused her ideals, but it was very much redeemed at the end as she reflected on her life. Not that she changed from being strong-willed and opinionated – one of the reasons we are drawn to her story. But she showed that not only was she an admirable woman of courage, but also one who was able to look back on her life and consider it from another perspective, and try to consider the viewpoints of others, and where she might have made not so wise choices. This was reflective of maturity and wisdom gained over time, and made the book well-rounded.' - R. Fung, NSW

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Niromi de Soyza answers 'Ten Terrifying Questions' at the Booktopia blog