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A Family's Struggle Through the Sri Lankan Conflict

Still reeling from the tsunami of 2004, Antoni and his family find their lives in turmoil when they are trapped in the crossfire during the country's merciless civil war. Can they survive not just the loss of friends and family but also being forced from their home, leaving everything behind? Where will they go? And who will give them refuge?

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In the tradition of Maus, Persepolis, Palestine, and The Breadwinner, Vanni is a graphic novel documenting the human side of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the ‘Tamil Tigers’. Told from the perspective of a single-family, it takes readers through the otherwise unimaginable struggles, horrors, and life-changing decisions families and individuals are forced to make when caught up in someone else’s war.

Set in Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that was devastated by the civil war, this graphic novel follows the Ramachandran family as they flee their home after the 2004 tsunami and move from one displacement camp to the next, seeking an ever-elusive safe haven and struggling to keep each other alive. Inspired by Benjamin Dix’s experience working in Sri Lanka for the United Nations during the war, Vanni draws on more than four years of meticulous research, official reports, and first-hand interviews with refugees. It depicts heroic acts of kindness and horrific acts of violence, memorializing the experiences of the Tamil civilians against the forces that seek to erase their memory.

Elegantly drawn by Lindsay Pollock, this exceptionally moving graphic novel portrays the personal experiences of modern warfare, the process of forced migration, and the struggles of seeking asylum in Europe.


Dr Benjamin Dix is Senior Fellow at SOAS, University of London as well as founder and Director of the non-profit PositiveNegatives which produces literary comics that explore complex social and humanitarian issues. He has worked across South Asia as a professional photographer and as a Communications and Liaison Manager for the United Nations. From 2004-2008 he was based in the LTTE (Tamil Tigers)-controlled Vanni, in north Sri Lanka, throughout the post-tsunami reconstruction and subsequent civil war.

Lindsay Pollock is a Senior Artist at PositiveNegatives, where he has illustrated a number of testimonial comics. His work has appeared on the BBC, Channel 4 and in multiple languages across Europe, Asia and Africa. Vanni is his debut graphic novel. 

Page Count: 
25 x 25cm
UK Publication Date: 
Wednesday, 18 September, 2019
Publication Date:
Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The story of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka, in which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were brazenly and brutally killed, is rapidly being buried by powerful countries with strategic and business interests in the region. This book seeks to unbury those terrible, sordid secrets and place them in clear view for the world to see.

Arundhuti Roy, author of The God of Small Things


The full story of the 2009 war in Sri Lanka has largely been ignored by the global press and international society. This graphic novel is telling the story to a new audience and simultaneously telling it in new ways to the few that already knew it. This Vanni story needs to be heard in order to avoid it happening again.

Liv Tørres, General Secretary, Nobel Peace Centre

In following the triumphs and travails of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, Dix and Pollock communicate their message with harrowing clarity: war extends far beyond the boundaries of the battlefield.

Publishers Weekly

If you don’t know much about the hardships in Sri Lanka, this is an amazing primer in that the history imparted [is] not separated from personal tolls it took on those swept up in it. Altogether, Vanni is an immensely impressive, and utterly heartbreaking achievement. This work takes two sprawling and horrific events — the political disintegration of Sri Lanka into perpetual war and the devastating tsunami that pummeled it — and covers them in an intimate narrative following members of two families as they struggle to survive. This is an astounding and heart-aching work that screams to the world thanks especially to the illustration work of Lindsay Pollack, who manages to capture the tapestry of suffering with sweeping visuals of the devastation, while also drawing the reader in on the intimate circumstances of the characters. His cartooning is emotionally crushing and gives bittersweet context to the equally skilled presentation of the history of Sri Lanka and its tragedies.

John Seven, Comics Beat

The pictures and the narrative are so graphic that readers will not be able to forget what they have seen and read. That, of course, is Dix’s aim, and he has succeeded.

John Elliott, Asia Sentinel

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