Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan

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Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Centring on a young Sri Lankan-American woman torn between arranged marriage and love matches, this novel is set against the background of the Sri Lankan civil war. This isn't an easy read and you'll need patience to stay with it. Reap the reward in its final third.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 0297853171

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Yalini is a second generation immigrant and first generation American. Her parents, Vani and Murali, escaped ethnic violence in Sri Lanka, and married in the United States. Yalini, in her early twenties, is plagued by different conflicts, but conflicts familiar to many children of immigrants. Should she respect and live by the cultural traditions of her ethnic background, or should she throw herself into the modern Western world in which she's living? Arranged marriages or love matches? Added to this tension is the aura of secrecy surrounding exactly how and why her parents came to be living in America at all.

Summoned to the bedside of a dying uncle once a member of the militant Tamil Tigers, Yalini sets about picking through the marriages of her various relatives and how they relate to their ethnic identities as Tamils, Yalini realises that the sectarian violence in Sri Lanka has more than small part to play.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place beset by violence and sectarianism. It's steeped in history and culture. But for the Western media it barely exists and it's a sobering and shameful thought that the tsunami might have helped Sri Lanka by focusing the world's attention on the country. The fact that there is no oil, that the people are of colour has limited the help given to the country - or prevented unwelcome intervention, depending on your point of view. So a major novel was an exciting thing; something to be anticipated.

If you like your books to have a strong structure and a certain pace then I'm afraid that this may well not be the book for you. Ganeshananthan's device of dissecting marriage and relationships makes for a contemplative read, but one whose repetition will bog many people down. If, on the other hand, you are content to absorb the story through Ganeshananthan's fragmented vignettes, occasionally to stop and consider the implications of what you have been told then you will reap the rewards.

The characters appear lightly drawn, but emerge fully formed. Yalini is a complex character: I couldn't warm to her, as I always had the sense that she could be quite extreme, that there was more than a little of the freedom fighter in her, but I did respect her sense of purpose. I warmed most to Kumaran, the dying Tamil Tiger and Murali, the gentle doctor.

The prose is beautiful - elegant, elegiac, precise. I couldn't criticise Ganeshananthan's way with words, in fact I'm in awe of it. But for many a novel needs something to drive it along and in Love Marriage the very stillness is key. I finished reading feeling bereft - perhaps that was the intention. I'm not certain. This is a very classy novel, but it is one for the patient, thoughtful reader.

My thanks to the good people at Weidenfeld and Nicolson for sending the book.

Those who like this kind of meditative novel should enjoy Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. Yo might also appreciate The Cage by Gordon Weiss.

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Buy Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love Marriage by V V Ganeshananthan at


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