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.
A lyric telling of one family’s Tamil diaspora experience. Ganeshananthan does a wonderful job following the lives of varied family members before, during, and after the 1983 “Black July” riots. There’s a family tree in the first few pages but you won’t need it – she lovingly details each person and drops hints just when you need them.
This book really spoke to me as my college roommate of two years was Tamil and I could see a lot of her family in the narrative. They also fled Sri Lanka and started a new life in Canada. They may or may not have had ties to the Tamil Tigers (I could only guess). Well-meaning relatives kept setting her up with “nice Tamil boys” whenever she was home from college, trying for the oh-so-desirable Proper Marriage. And much like Yalini’s friend I was cut loose once she moved on. (I miss ya, B.)
Reading about this family’s journey filled in so many gaps in my knowledge about Sri Lanka and would be an excellent introduction to the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict for anyone. I love that Ganeshananthan embraces the complex nature of the war, emphasizing that everyone did what they thought was right even though the definition of “right” was different for each person. Yalini spends a lot of time and energy coming to terms with her Uncle’s ties with the Tigers and what it means for her soon-to-be-married cousin. How, even though they are so closely related by blood, their circumstances led them to be very different people.
The language throughout is lyric and flowing. I marked some passages because they’re beautiful and others because they’re simply true.
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. They begin without fanfare and end without warning.
I absolutely loved this book and am so glad that I read it. I feel like a slightly better person, a bit more knowledgeable about the world and the struggles that many have gone (and continue to go) through.