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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)
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
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
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
Read an Excerpt
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.