Friday, April 24, 2015

Love Marriage by V. V. Ganeshananthan

I think there should be, if there is not already, a name for the genre of novel that is the history of a country told through the history of one family. I know I have read several books in this vein (My Darling Dead Ones and Barnacle Love come immediately to mind, but there are many others I have read for this blog alone). I think it is a delicate thing to do, to find the right balance between the history and the present, and the personal and the political.

Love Marriage does this very well. It is also an exploration of the vast spectrum of marriage between Arranged Marriage and Love Marriage in the narrator's home country of Sri Lanka (although she herself was born in America). The book starts with the premise that marriage and family come from each other, and that every family story must start with a marriage. On that premise alone it is quite an interesting look at the different reasons people get married, and what a huge range of reasons there are even within this one family.

The narrator is Yalani, a young woman who moves from America (I can't remember where, or perhaps it is never said) to Toronto, to be with her terminally ill uncle in the last months of his life. Her uncle was a Tamil Tiger, who had disappeared to join the movement when his sister, Yalani's mother, was still young. With him is his daughter, raised in the Tiger movement. Their presence forces Yalani's otherwise politically neutral family to take at least an outward appearance of sympathy for the cause.

Yalani starts to collect stories from her uncle, taking down the family history. This is of course, irrevocably interwoven with the history of the conflict in Sri Lanka between the Tamils and the government. While understanding of her uncle's position, Yalani (and the story) find in difficult to cope with the violence of Tamil resistance, and her cousin's hardness toward her and her adopted home.

This book is very beautiful, and written quite poetically. The theme of marriage was deftly interwoven throughout, and helps keep the story on track. I also really enjoyed the recurring theme of fire, although sometimes it was less than subtle.

Toronto, unfortunately, makes very little impression in the story, except (as always!) a city of immigrants. The family lives in an area of Scarborough that is essentially a second Jaffna, where it is difficult to escape the conflict and racial tensions of Sri Lanka. The novel briefly touches on the idea of the family coming to grips with being, essentially, brown people - their Tamil identities erased by white Canadians.

It is an emotionally taxing but truly beautiful novel, and I highly recommend it - and look forward to reading more from this author.

Four CN Towers out of five.

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