Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: The Story of a Brief Marriage

Summary: Two and a half decades into a devastating civil war, Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority is pushed inexorably towards the coast by the advancing army. Amongst the evacuees is Dinesh, whose world has contracted to a makeshift camp where time is measured by the shells that fall around him like clockwork. Alienated from family, home, language, and body, he exists in a state of mute acceptance, numb to the violence around him, till he is approached one morning by an old man who makes an unexpected proposal: that Dinesh marry his daughter, Ganga. Marriage, in this world, is an attempt at safety, like the beached fishing boat under which Dinesh huddles during the bombings. As a couple, they would be less likely to be conscripted to fight for the rebels, and less likely to be abused in the case of an army victory. Thrust into this situation of strange intimacy and dependence, Dinesh and Ganga try to come to terms with everything that has happened, hesitantly attempting to awaken to themselves and to one another before the war closes over them once more.

Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage is a feat of extraordinary sensitivity and imagination, a meditation on the fundamental elements of human existence—eating, sleeping, washing, touching, speaking—that give us direction and purpose, even as the world around us collapses. Set over the course of a single day and night, this unflinching debut confronts marriage and war, life and death, bestowing on its subjects the highest dignity, however briefly. -- Flatiron Books

There are a few books I read that I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to review them. The latest one that is giving me a few issues is the novel THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE by Anuk Arudpragasam. I saw this book appear on some must-read fall list, and I just knew I had to read it. I ended up reading the novel in one afternoon -- it's less than 200 pages, and it was an incredibly powerful read.

THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE takes place in Sri Lanka during their civil war. Dinesh is one of the evacuees who is being pushed towards the coast by an advancing army. The evacuees have set up a camp with a makeshift hospital, but the living conditions are horrible. The camp is under attack and the evacuees never know when a bombing will take place.

Like everyone else, Dinesh is just trying to stay alive. He helps at the hospital as much as he can, and he's created a "home" for himself away from the others, under an old fishing boat. One day, an elderly man approaches Dinesh and asks him if he'd be interested in marrying his daughter, Ganga. He hopes that the marriage will help save both of their lives because the couple would be less likely to be called by the rebels to fight as well as less likely to be abused if the rebels lose their fight.

These two virtual strangers decide to marry and then attempt to learn a bit about each other... and make sense of their lives during this horrific civil war.

THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE packs a powerful punch! It's a book that touches your heart while you're reading it and definitely makes you appreciate your life; however, it also makes you think long after you finish it -- always a sign of a good book. I thought the characters, especially Dinesh, were well-drawn; and I was very impressed with this author's debut effort.

Despite reading THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE in one afternoon, it wasn't quick read for me. That probably doesn't make much sense, but let me explain. The topics in this novel were heavy and often times disturbing. I definitely had to take time to read them because they were difficult to process. In addition, there were a few times when I found the pacing of the book to be a little slow. These sections weren't enough to really take away from my appreciation of the novel, but I did notice that some parts moved faster than others.

The thing that impressed me the most about this novel was how well the author captured the human spirit. The evacuees in this camp were facing a living nightmare every single day, not knowing if they'd even live to see another. That Dinesh and Ganga managed to find each other and even find some beauty in their situation is incredibly heartwarming. The novel showed the resilience of humans, and despite it's sadness, I found it to represent hope.

Overall, THE STORY OF A BRIEF MARRIAGE is a beautiful novel. I highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Sarah's Book Shelves said...

I've got this one on my list of books to try before the end of the year. And I've heard similar things about it being tough and, though just 200 pages, not a quick read. Glad you enjoyed it!

bermudaonion said...

That does sound very powerful and moving.