Sepiaâ€™s very own guest columnist V. V. Ganeshananthanâ€™s debut novel “Love Marriage” [book excerpt] is a haunting family drama about the ramifications of decades of civil war in Sri Lanka. [Cicatrix's review is forthcoming.] It hit bookshelves earlier this month, and while on her book tour, Sugi took a few minutes to answer some questions via e-mail about the book, her writing process, and her inspirations.
You began Love Marriage as your senior thesis, I’ve read. Was there a particular image or incident that inspired it, apart, of course, from your own background as the child of Sri Lankan immigrants? No single thing inspired the book. The first page seemed to write itself, almost by accident. They were just some musings, but then I took them into a creative writing class, and my classmates were very encouraging about it and wanted to hear more from that voice. That voice belonged to a particular character who was starting to realize how Sri Lankan politics had affectedâ€”and continued to affectâ€”her family. And therefore her.
Why did you choose to write the novel in these vignettes? Did this form help you accomplish something that a straight narrative could not? The currency of family stories is the anecdote. This is the manner in which most of learn about our families, so in that way it is organic to the story.
Time is dealt with in interesting ways in Love Marriage . There are two sections in the novel that I thought were especially powerful where you describe simultaneous events – they are almost cinematic. For example, while the main character Yalini is being born, Black July is happening in Sri Lanka. Can you address the question of parallels? There are lots of parallels in the book. Some were quite intentional, and others were not. I hadn’t really thought of the birth scene as a parallel until you mentioned it, but I suppose it is. I think of it as the one moment when Murali is in two places at once. Here is this young Sri Lankan couple having their first child, and it’s supposed to be this joyous moment. And it is. And yet at the same time Murali has this singular experience of watching disaster at home through the lens of the news. He is watching it and he is not part of it. There’s the distance of the eye of the camera. And at the same time he is a part of it in two weird ways: He is part of a removed group of viewers, and he can also imagine himself on the screen. He’s powerless, except for the act of viewing and knowing that.
Quite often when we see upsetting news about the developing world, or countries in the East, on the news, it is a strange experience. What does it mean to show violence, and show violence, and show violence?
When I first heard the title of the book, I have to admit that I thought, “Oh, no, another book about love vs. arranged marriages” – but that presumption was very quickly blown away. At the end of the novel, we come to see the notion of marriage as many different things, between people but also between “person and a country.” In light of current political climate, was there a political statement that you wanted to make with this novel? Of course the book is political. It has a range of characters with a range of political opinions. The Sri Lankan diaspora’s political views are sometimes understood as two opposite poles with nothing in between. (As though arranged marriage and love marriage were the only two kinds of marriage.) But there are so many communities and opinions and conversations out there. It’s important to create room for dissent in any dialogueâ€”and this one in particular. Continue reading