From Publishers Weekly
Several generations of a Sri Lankan family touched by the country's civil war confront the limits of ethnic and familial allegiance in Ganeshananthan's forceful but patchy debut. First-generation American Yalini, daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil parents Vani and Murali, is an awkward 22-year-old who has spent her youth burdened by family secrets from their lives before emigration. Confronted with her enigmatic dying uncle, Kumaran, who had a shadowy role in Sri Lanka's insurgent Tamil Tigers, Yalini is driven to examine her relatives' marriages as a means of figuring out their alliances and her own unsettled identity. Her parents fell in love in New York and escaped arranged marriages back home; her grandparents, aunts and uncles have their own stories; Kumaran's 18-year-old daughter chooses to wed a Tamil Tiger financier. Written in short blocks of text, the book is structured as a kind of day book where Yalini records her progress. Repetitions create a meditative mood, but dull the book's emotional core and make emphasis on marriage seem forced. The most vivid character, Rajie, the daughter of an old family friend, appears only briefly. And the issues that plague Yalini remain vague until the last third of the novel, when the narrative suddenly takes on real power. (Apr.)
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Born of Sri Lankan immigrants, Ganeshananthan presents a contemplative debut novel that portrays the ways one extended Sri Lankan family copes with displacement, a break with tradition, opposing political persuasions, and guilt after the beginnings of Sri Lanka’s dissolution in 1983. Yalini, the narrator, is born that very year in Connecticut to parents united in a “love marriage” instead of the more typical arranged pairing. Their families are still living in Sri Lanka and are “not quite speaking, and neither knowing exactly why.” As Yalini matures into a modern American woman, she listens to the stories of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and their marriages—most arranged, some happy, and some that “go on even when they should not.” She also learns the painful lesson that “one’s relatives do not always share one’s politics,” as she gradually becomes privy to family secrets and resentments “shut up in the cool and quiet cabinet of memory.” Written in sparse vignettes replete with emotional recollections of the past, Ganeshananthan’s first novel imagines a rich and haunting family history. --Deborah Donovan