is a short story by one of my favourite writers which you can read here. V.V. Ganeshananthan is the author of Love Marriage, a debut novel that was beautifully written and had such depth and understanding of what was happening in Sri Lanka during the ethnic conflict. This is another short piece that will stun you with its power. I like the way that she writes her pieces without drowning you in sentimentality. It’s short, sharp and brutal.

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can be found here. As you all probably know, I was very impressed with V.V. Ganeshananthan‘s debut novel Love Marriage and always keep an attentive eye out for any new offerings from an author that I admire.

Hippocrates, published in Granta 109, is a short story set in Sri Lanka about a Tamil woman recently down from Jaffna to Colombo with a complicated past. Ganeshananthan’s unveiling of the protagonist’s past is masterful and beautifully written. I particularly love the way her characters aren’t simply stereotyped nor her world white-washed. They are difficult, knotted and very human. Ganeshananthan is an American of Sri Lankan origin and writes unsentimentally of her parents’ country.

In the coming years, I think we can expect a slew of post-war Sri Lankan fiction from writers in Sri Lanka and the diaspora tackling the ethnic conflict as people slowly try to recover and understand what has been happening and what has been kept hidden during the war. And I hope Ganeshananthan continues to write about complex and difficult issues.

Hippocrates is a quietly resonant story that will linger in your mind long after it is finished. You won’t regret reading it.

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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.

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I’m so excited about this. The 4th annual Galle Literary Festival 2010 is scheduled for January 27-31, 2010 and I will be there! I’m lucky in that I can combine my annual trip home to visit my parents in Sri Lanka with a four day literary extravaganza in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Last year we saw Germaine Greer, Romesh Gunasekara, Pico Iyer, Moses Isegawa, V.V. Ganeshananthan, Tahmima Anam and Asitha Ameresekara amongst other great writers such as Thomas Keneally and Michael Morpugo. I love Romesh Gunasekara’s writing, in particular his novel The Match, and would have gone just to see him. I was lucky enough to get a place at his writing workshop which was truly inspirational. I was also reading V.V. Ganeshananthan’s Love Marriage , at the time, so that was a bonus too. And who could resist hearing Germaine Greer’s rant on post-feminism?

It was my first literary festival, and I dragged my parents there as 1) I needed a driver to take me from Colombo to Galle (a three hour journey along the south west coast of Sri Lanka), 2) I have only one friend there and she was working and 3) I thought it would be a nice change in our holiday routine (try something new!) and that they’d enjoy it. We stayed at Aditiya, a boutique hotel which cost a small fortune but was totally worth it because the hotel staff actually left you alone, you could have your meals at anytime, anywhere on the grounds including on the beach, and they did the most divine massages. The Sri Lankan breakfasts which you had to order the night before was also incredibly delicious.

I spent as much time as I could at the literary festival while my parents checked out places for us to have lunch and dinner. I did manage to get my dad, who spent a large part of his career as a UN expert on Asia and Africa, to attend a couple of talks by Patrick French, V.S. Naipaul’s biographer, in conversation with the intrepid traveller Pico Iyer and a very entertaining and political talk by Moses Isegawa, the Nigerian writer.

What I didn’t expect was how interesting it was to listen to writers I had never come across or read before, and how that opened up new avenues in my reading life. My best discovery at this year’s Galle Literary Festival was the debut novelist Tahmima Anam who wrote A Golden Age, a novel about the birth of Bangladesh. She awed us with her poise and erudition and after her session I rushed out to join the queue to buy her book. I didn’t get a chance to read it until I got back to London as I was busy reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind on that holiday (I was going through my periodic scifi and fantasy phase), but when I did, I loved it.

Anam’s language and story-telling skill is so strong and vivid, I felt envious that someone could produce such a perfect first novel. The first line of A Golden Age just grabs you by the hair and sucks you in. It was emotional, yet restrained, punchy, bittersweet and utterly beautiful. She doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happened to her country and people, but she tells her story with such dignity that the novel steers clear of sentimentality and nostalgia. You care about the characters and you want them to survive. Her protagonist Rehana Haque, wife, mother and lover is one of the quietest and strongest fictional women I have ever encountered. A synopsis of her novel can be found here. Buy it, borrow it, swipe it, just go and read it!

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