Talking about Sri Lankan and diasporic literature, I’ve been a bit of a wuss and have been avoiding writing a review of this book because of the subject matter and the emotions that it entails. But V.V. Ganeshananthan has written a beautiful book and I’m not really doing it justice if I put it off any longer. Love Marriage is a truly accomplished debut novel from an author who I think will go on to greater things. Like A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam which I have raved on about in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a discussion at the Galle Literary Festival 2009 earlier in January between Ganeshananthan and Sanjana Hattotuwa who runs Groundviews, the Sri Lankan citizens journalism website.

Following in the footsteps of Shyam Selvadurai, Romesh Gunasekara and Michael Ondaatje, Ganeshananthan tackles Sri Lanka’s Sinhaha/Tamil ethnic conflict, probing its origins in a sensitive, yet hard hitting manner. You can’t really pussyfoot around such a bloody event that spanned almost thirty years, ending only with an aggressive and bloody offensive by the Sri Lankan government this year. You can’t really pick sides, your ethnicity dictating where you have to stand. But not everyone agrees with the hard lines taken up by the political, religious and ethnic factions and there are many vocal journalists and activists who are not afraid to make a stand and to call for justice. But everyone has lost someone they loved, been uprooted, lost their homes. No one remains unscathed.

Despite these dark and painful foundations, Ganeshananthan manages to weave a very human, and warm, story. Moving back and forth from newly independant Ceylon to Sri Lanka and then to contemporary USA, the past is bathed in sepia tones the colour of orange pekoe tea. But it’s not just the past, but also the current displaced Tamil diaspora in the US and Canada that feature largely in her tale. Many are brought up with stories that had escaped along with their narrators from the fiery inferno of a rioting country where grievances have lain long and simmering since Ceylon was held under the colonial yoke.

What I admire about Ganeshananthan’s writing is that she paints a convincing picture of the seductive pull of the Tamil Tigers when one’s cultural and national identities are brought into question, especially in her character Kumaran. Black July, when the rioting and massacres began in earnest against the Tamil people in retaliation for the murders of Sinhalese soldiers is brought back to life in a frightening and haunting manner. The aftershocks of such violence and the moment when irreversible choices are made reverberate throughout the novel. In contrast to the violent modern history of the country, Ganeshananthan also portrays a gentler, slower era when families were still living together and sharing their lives.

This novel made me ponder the complex nature of history with regard to cultural and ethnic differences. Sri Lanka’s war was one war amongst many that were and are still being fought in the present day. And I’m glad I read Love Marriage because it made me think about the nature of conflict and face what’s been happening in my father’s country. The war is over, but the struggle still continues until Sri Lanka becomes a country in which all the ethnic population can live in harmony, and respect and honour one another. It’s easier said than done, but I really hope that it will happen one day.

Love Marriage was longlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize.