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.
"[A] brave debut . . . In language that is often poetic, he describes a single day and night in the life of a refugee fleeing both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelem and government forces . . . Arudpragasam captures the vernacular while sustaining a startling lyricism . . . This is a book that makes one kneel before the elegance of the human spirit and the yearning that is at the essence of every life."—Ru Freeman, The New York Times Book Review
"The Story of a Brief Marriage is a novel about love in a time of war that describes human suffering in graphic, unforgiving detail. It sets out to unsettle the reader with this purpose from the very first page . . . The Story of a Brief Marriage is a strange, profound, mini-masterpiece of a novel. Arudpragasam writes with control, clarity and a terrible beauty that acknowledges the world’s grandeur in the midst of darkness. But despite the desolate subject matter, this is not a desolate tale. It is as much about finding the strength to live fully, even in such close proximity to death as Dinesh finds himself, as it is about our capacities to endure pain."—Arifa Akbar, Financial Times
"Reading this book is an act of witness so intimate, I find it hard to write about . . . The book, though, changed me. The Story of a Brief Marriage is set in Sri Lanka during the decades-long, devastating civil war, and focuses on Tamil minority evacuees fleeing destruction and violence . . . Arudpragasam writes with intimacy about the minutiae of this life—from the challenging act of taking a shit on an open beach when you’re nearly starved and you might be attacked, to an encounter with a dying crow that calls out from the bowels of the jungle, seeming to seek 'the attention of another living creature,' 'its body glisten[ing] with a yellow-white substance, most likely shit.' The prose, like poetry, is thick, concentrated. It takes two-and-a-half pages for Dinesh to clip his nails. Arudpragasam masterfully gives us the details of each experience . . . The Story of a Brief Marriage is a delicate, detailed examination of the old boy-meets-girl story, told in the context of a refugee camp in the midst of a civil war . . . It’s the kind of tale that, due to its apparent simplicity, might be called a fable. But it’s more textured than a fable. Small, simple events are freighted with detail and nuanced with meaning. This is not the simplicity of broad strokes, but a pointillism whose interior swirls infinitely, demanding an eye that will not turn away.As it happens, Arudpragasam did not live the experiences he records in such grueling, vivid moment-to-moment detail. This is an act of research and imagination, an extension of human experience, via empathy and dark fantasy, into experiences commonly referred to as “unimaginable” . . . The immersive imagination of the novel, as distinct from the news, provides an illumination, the precision and the perspective of a single, specific human being, that offers entry into this story, that pulls me through rather than past it."—Elizabeth Stark, The Rumpus
Reviews from Goodreads
MOST CHILDREN HAVE two whole legs and two whole arms but this little six-year-old that Dinesh was carrying had already lost one leg, the right one from the lower thigh down, and was now about to lose...