Book Review: “Love Marriage” by V.V. Ganeshananthan

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I just reviewed V.V. Ganeshananthan’s Love Marriage on my blog. I thought the intertwining of women’s stories (stories of marriages mainly) and the Sri Lankan conflict were brilliantly done, and very beautifully too. Take a look at the review which I am cross-posting here.

Personal is political is personal is political is…: Review

I have been following V.V.Ganeshananthan on Twitter for a long time (@Vasugi) but did not know anything about her. Then somewhere, probably on Twitter, I heard she’d published a novel. I was curious but because South Asian diaspora novels have become so common, was not terribly interested. Then, the other day, I saw her book in Landmark and thought, “Oh, why not?” My scepticism was underscored by the very small print of the edition I bought.

It’s a good book, folks! You should read it. And this is why.

The protagonist is a young Sri Lankan-American and as the book unfolds, she learns about the country her parents (Tamil) have left behind. Yes, like most of us, she knows what happened, when it happened, in a textbook sort of way, and being a Sri Lankan Tamil, she has seen graphic pamphlets and heard bits of stories. But what she learns as the book unfolds is what most of us never have a chance to do: to put face to headline, to put feeling into choice, to see the inevitability that personal relationships will have political dimensions. To see it all together.

Ganeshananthan braids two strands–the interior, familial, personal one of marriage and the exterior, communal, political one of conflict–into one young woman’s journey of seeing. The story of each marriage is a gem in itself, complete, stand-alone. I want to share with you a passage that I found very moving and particularly memorable (page 114):

“…Then he hit her across the cheekbone, and Harini’s mouth flooded with blood.

This is the taste of a Marriage Dying, her Heart said. Harini had swallowed everything, all her life. Her spinster sister Mayuri’s jealousy of a Marriage that had happened too neatly. Her mother’s quiet disapproval. Her own self-imposed status as a perpetual shadow. Harini swallowed again, swallowed air and blood. Her beating Heart had grown pulpy and old with abuse.

But Harini bent double, bent down. She picked up her Go-On Forever Smile from where it had fallen on the ground, and went on.”

As the protagonist’s family nurses her uncle, a Tiger who’s been allowed to get away because he is dying, old stories are finally told, and new ones too. In that community in Toronto, she discovers just how personal politics is: the Tigers have chosen her cousin’s future husband. And she discovers that personal ties cross political lines as well.

This is a book lots of people should read. First, those who are looking for a good story, well-written should definitely read this. Second, those who are interested in Sri Lankan politics, will begin to glimpse the things that textbooks don’t record about why people make the choices they do. Finally, those interested in conflict should read this because it illustrates how much more complicated conflict resolution is than textbooks would suggest; there are no templates because the human Heart (to continue the author’s usage!) doesn’t read them.

I will finish by noting that the author teaches English at the University of Michigan, and was teaching a course on political fiction last year. This would be a great book to assign as recommended reading for courses dealing with issues like conflict or migration or in South Asian Studies.

V.V.Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage, Orion Books, 2008.

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