Love Marriage

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Overview

In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak of only two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second. [p. 3]

The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants who left their collapsing country and married in America, Yalini finds herself caught between the traditions of her ancestors and the lure of her own modern ...

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Love Marriage

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Overview

In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak of only two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second. [p. 3]

The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants who left their collapsing country and married in America, Yalini finds herself caught between the traditions of her ancestors and the lure of her own modern world. But when she is summoned to Toronto to help care for her dying uncle, Kumaran, a former member of the militant Tamil Tigers, Yalini is forced to see that violence is not a relic of the Sri Lankan past, but very much a part of her Western present.

While Kumaran’s loved ones gather around him to say goodbye, Yalini traces her family’s roots–and the conflicts facing them as ethnic Tamils–through a series of marriages. Now, as Kumaran’s death and his daughter’s politically motivated nuptials edge closer, Yalini must decide where she stands.

Lyrical and innovative, V. V. Ganeshananthan’s novel brilliantly unfolds how generations of struggle both form and fractures families.

Praise for Love Marriage
“A beautiful first novel. This intricately woven tale, with its universal themes of love and estrangement, presents an exciting new voice in American literature.”
–Yiyun Li, author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

“Complex and moving . . . an impressive debut.”
–Daniel Alarcón, author of Lost City Radio   

“V. V. Ganeshananthan has given us a riveting picture of the intersections of love and war that shape us all. A debut of incredible passion and wisdom.”
–Rebecca Johns, author of Icebergs

“At its best and simplest, Ganeshananthan can be profoundly moving. She captures the pain of exile poignantly.” --The San Francisco Chronicle
“Ganeshananthan has created a slow-burning and beautifully written debut in Love Marriage.  It is an evocative examination of Sri Lankan cultural mores, and the way one family is affected by love and war” — The Financial Times
“Poignant and authentic…. Insight gained into Toronto's Tamil community is a welcome bonus in this gem of a book by a young writer who is sure to present more thought-provoking, entertaining prose in the future.” --The Toronto Star
“The book is at times witty and always beautifully written” — The Irish Times

"Innovative….this is an ambitious family drama about an underreported part of the world, filled with well-shaded characters [and] gorgeous flourish…Buy it." -- New York Magazine

"As if she were stringing a necklace of bright beads, the author relates the stories of Yalini's Sri Lankan forebears in lapidary folkloric narratives…What she does here, she does quite affectingly." -- The Boston Globe

"In spare, lyrical prose, V.V. Ganeshananthan's debut novel tells the story of two Sri Lankan Tamil families over four generations who, despite civil war and displacement, are irrevocably joined by marriage and tradition….Powerful." -- Ms. Magazine

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
In Yalini's world, there are only two kinds of marriage, the Arranged Marriage and the Love Marriage. "Most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second." The American-born daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, Yalini sits in stark contrast between tradition and modernity. With one eye on the increasingly dangerous conflicts and ancestral culture of her parents' homeland, and another on the freedom and temptations of her life in the West, Yalini becomes a touchstone in this moving family story. Not until she's called upon to watch over her dying uncle, a former member of the militant Tamil Tigers, will she find the understanding and connection she craves.

A story of conflict both personal and political, Love Marriage is a deeply resonant first novel. As Yalini converses with her failing uncle, she reaches back through several generations of marriage, and in a series of lyrical vignettes, illuminates the history of its scattered members. She rejects a story with the tidiness of a beginning, middle, and end in favor of one that, while perhaps incomplete and at times contradictory, illustrates that there are many versions of the same story, and that a family's imagination can be as real as its history. An evocative study of duty and conscience, of honor and courage during decades of war and upheaval, Love Marriage is also a wondrously intimate and unforgettably nuanced exploration of family and memory. (Summer 2008 Selection)
Nandini Lal
In Sri Lanka, one can journey from alpine highland to jungle to beach to plantation to rock citadel in one enchanted day. It is heartening to see this teardrop-shaped island, which usually makes news only in the context of tsunamis and ethnic violence, at the center of such a thought-provoking novel.
—The Washington Post
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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The history of an extended family whose relationships and destinies are shaped by fallout from Sri Lanka's ongoing civil war is sorrowfully traced in Ganeshananthan's affecting first novel. The narrator, Yalini, is an American-born young woman whose personal freedom is indebted to the courage of her parents, Murali and Vani, both of whom had escaped marriages to others "Arranged" for them (as decreed by long-standing custom) and emigrated to the West. As Yalini is impelled to focus her attention on the world of her fathers and mothers (in the wake, so to speak, of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami), she begins to question not only her Hindu culture's ceremonial imperatives, but the rights and wrongs of the war that began in earnest in the year of her birth (1983), and the divisive allegiances that drew her fiery uncle Kumaran into the orbit of the feared "Tamil Tigers," revolutionary opponents of Sri Lanka's oppressive Sinhalese majority. As Kumaran lies dying of cancer, and his daughter Jenani plans marriage to a highly placed Tamil operative, Yalini uncovers the histories of her predecessors and contemporaries, in Asia and North America. Summary suggests a crowded narrative, but in fact it's a glancing, episodic one, framed in rapid, brief vignettes, only some of which strike with much force. The stories of the doomed Kumaran, unable to resist the righteous momentum of terrorism; Murali's frail sister Uma, who "was just Too Special to Get Married"; and of a wedding "disrupted" by terrorist vengeance, are notably vivid and memorable. Ganeshananthan's portrayal of Yalini as her embattled family's reluctant historian is complex and interesting, as is Yalini's recognition of her "outsider"status ("When I got to the U.K. I had a shock...I realized that I had become a colored person."). The hit-and-run structure has the unfortunate, and surely unintended, effect of fragmenting the overall emotional impact. Still, the individual characters' stories ring true and should move readers to make this novel a book-club favorite. Agent: Stephanie Cabot/The Gernert Company
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400066698
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/8/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,281,289
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak only of two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first toward the second.

Among the categories that bleed outside these two carefully delineated boundaries: the Self-Arranged Marriage, the Outside Marriage, the Cousin Marriage, the Village Marriage, the Marriage Abroad. There is the Marriage Without Consent. There is the Marriage Under Pressure. There is even Marrying the Enemy, who, it turns out, is not an Enemy at all.

You cannot go unfettered into a family’s history if you are one of them. The nature of certain unions will be hidden from you, rephrased to you, the subject dropped, the music changed. There is Proper Marriage; there is Improper Marriage. This Tamil family speaks of the latter in whispers.

The rule is that all families begin with a marriage. And the other way around.

You don’t marry a person, my father says to no one in particular. You marry a family.

The Self-Arranged Marriage: my father has married my mother’s family so successfully that he now fits into it as well as—if not better than—he fits into his own. My mother is an Aravindran and, further back than that, a Vairavan, which means that the members of her family—especially her siblings—are nosy, noisy, close, and concerned with domestic comforts. Years after they stopped living where they had always lived, in a small house in the village of Urelu, in the town of Jaffna, they remain connected by telephone lines and carefully written aerograms. They never forget birthdays, favorite curries, or unkindnesses. They were once three but are now two. My father loves my mother’s family, and in return for that they draw him in. They have forgotten that when he wanted to marry my mother they circled around her protectively from the far corners of the globe, opposed to her marrying a man they had never even met. They only remember that she has a happy life in a country far safer than the one in which she was born.

And twenty-five years after their wedding, my parents like to give the impression that their marriage was Arranged, because they are both very Proper. But their secret is out: they fell in love. Those who are watching can see how in certain moments they become each other. This has been their way of falling in love: the acquisition of each other’s habits, mannerisms, preferences, and witticisms. They have built a wall around their two-ness, and each brick laid in place is a secret that only they share, or perhaps an exception one has made for the other. They have become an example of how you can Have Your Love and Eat It Too. They let everyone think that they took no responsibility for the way they came together. They engaged in all the dances of manners and the ceremonies involved in a Traditional Marriage, which is to say, an Arranged Marriage. This, they say, is not a romance. It begins with an introduction, a handshake, which is not the custom of the East but has become the greeting of the West. The touching of fingers is a strange, luscious intimacy, a preface to the story.

These two, my parents, have not acknowledged their secret—perhaps not even to each other. And they have exchanged rings and vows and hearts without eliciting the frowns that Improper Marriages frequently do.

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Reading Group Guide

1. At the beginning of the novel, Yalini befriends and then breaks off her friendship with an unnamed male. What do you think draws her to him in the first place? Why does she break off the friendship? What does the relationship tell you about her character?

2. There are several obvious doubles in the novel–Yalini and Janani, Kunju and Tharshi, Murali and Kumaran. Why do you think pairs are so important? How do these relationships compare and relate to each other? Can you think of any other significant pairs?

3. Why do you think Ganeshananthan chooses to write in fragmented vignettes?

4. Father-daughter relationships are important to this book. How does Murali and Yalini’s relationship compare with Kumaran and Janani’s relationship? How is Yalini’s budding relationship with Kumaran different from her relationship with Murali?

5. Yalini describes her family as “globe-scattered” (3). How is setting important in the novel? What do you see as the places that are most important to Yalini’s family story? How, in particular, is Toronto significant? Jaffna? America?

6. Violence plays a large part in this story–some incidents are personal, some political, and some accidental. Yalini’s great-grandfather’s murder, various sets of ethnic riots, the violence between Rajan and Harini, and the burns suffered by Kunju all mark milestones in the novel. How do incidents of emotional violence accomplish something similar? Do they?

7. When she meets Kumaran, Yalini becomes the unofficial family historian. Later, she says that, in order to do so, she had to learn to think in the first person. Why is it so important to Yalini to tell her family’s story?

8. Why do you think Ganeshananthan chooses the title Love Marriage? How is it important to each of the relationships that she writes about?

9. After trying several times to stop Janani’s wedding, Yalini comes to a realization. She says: “She was doing it for him, because she thought he would want to see tradition preserved, if not in the form of a Tamil country, then in the form of a Tamil daughter” (265). Do you agree with Yalini about Janani’s motivations? How do they set her apart from Yalini? Do you believe that this is what Kumaran wanted for his daughter?

10. Even after the attack on the wedding site, Janani still marries Suthan. How does this choice affect or implicate Yalini in political violence?

11. At the end of the novel, Yalini asks herself whether she, if faced with the same situations as Kumaran and Janani, would have acted similarly, saying: “governments call men terrorists to erase their reason, to make them crazy. Some of them are, and some of them are not. What does that make me?” (272). How do you think Yalini comes to terms with Kumaran’s actions? Do you think she too would have joined the Tigers had she not lived in America?

12. Tharshi’s daughter Uma does not fit into the marriage categories that Yalini lays out on the first page. Instead, Tharshi says that her daughter was “Too Special to Get Married.” Later, Yalini confesses that she has much of Uma in her. Do you think that Yalini will ever get married? Or is she, also, Too Special?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2008

    Love Marriage

    'Love Marriage' is a generational saga of a Sri Lankan family, which includes a member of the Tamil Tigers, as well as an exploration of the many types of marriage that are possible, including the titular Love Marriage. The narrator, Yalini, is the child of parents who forged a Love Marriage, contrary to their culture's traditions of arranged marriage. Her parents meet in America, where Yalini is born, far from the growing conflicts between Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. The war comes home to Yalini, however, when her uncle, a famed Tamil Tiger, comes to them in his last days of life. As he tells Yalini his story she is drawn into the world she never knew firsthand. The writing style is flowing and captivating. An unfortunate flaw is that in trying to tell so many stories-- those of the family, the marriages, and the country-- the novel never seems to quite settle into one and completely explore it which leaves the reader feeling somewhat hungry to go a bit deeper. However the flow of the narrative and the historical backdrop serve to keep the novel interesting and worthwhile.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2008

    Love Marriage

    Yalini, the protagonist of this novel, is the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants. Her parents left their collapsing country behind to find a new world in the United States. That world remains elusive to Yalini who finds herself caught between the traditions of her ancestors and the lure of the modern world. The secrets of Sri Lankan's history and her family's past come head to head when she is summoned to Toronto to help care for her dying uncle, Kumaran. A former member of the militant Tamil Tigers, he is allowed to leave the ranks after being diagnosed wirh cancer. The dark truths about Kumaran's past unravel gradually and Yalini soon learns: 'It would be false to say that there is a beginning to the story, or a middle or an end. Those words have a tidiness that does not belong here. Our lives are not clean.' Confronted with this reality, Yalini starts tracing her family's roots - and the conflicts facing them as ethnic Tamils - through a series of marriages. As Kumaran's death and his daughter's politically motivated nuptials edge closer, Yalini realises that violence is not only a part of her family's Sri Lankan past, but also very much a part of her Western present. The book was written as asenior thesis and, instead of a straight narrative, it is presented in the form of vignettes. A series of many short extracts appears as fragmented parts of the whole. This means the novel falters in parts. Often one little extract doesn't quite lead into another, tempting you to skip to the next part of the book. But Love Marriage does provide rare insights into the 25-year-old conflict that has wrecked parts of the island paradise of Sri Lanka.

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