It took me a month to read this book Writing a review for it makes you want to pull out your Thesaurus and find all the synonyms for bleak But the word that came to me as I read the first chapter was visceral And that is the word I m going to stick with, though there are many other words you could use to describe it You do not read a book set in a war torn country refugee camp and expect happiness and light It will not be that kind of book And yet there is something about this story that is not lovely exactly, but that is utterly human It is, in a strange way, if not a celebration of life then a heightened awareness and observation of what life means and what it feels like.Arudpragasam tells you with his title what will happen and how the story will end You are not waiting for anyone to be saved, it is clear that it is not that kind of story It is just being with Dinesh, being with him as he takes in the world, as he tries not to feel and sometimes can t help but feel, that is utterly transporting This is a book that writes about bodies with the same utter frankness one thinks of one s own when no one else is paying attention It is a book where an entire chapter is just Dinesh walking to the well and washing himself And yet that chapter had me completely transfixed I do not know how Arudpragasam is able to do that but he does.It took me a month to read this book because it is a book set in an arbitrary and hurtful universe It is hard to read than a little at a time because it is so vivid and affecting I picked it up because it was blurbed by Garth Greenwell, and while it is very different than his WHAT BELONGS TO YOU, there are elements they have in common The immersive ness, the delicate and beautiful language You cannot read this book without being changed by it in some small way. Living Perhaps people simply had no choice Perhaps they had to keep moving, to get up in the morning, and to go on until evening Breathing was not a choice or habit after all, it was not something you could start or stop at will The atmosphere entered the body of its own accord, and in the same way it took its leave, from the first breath to the last, so perhaps in a way living was not a choice The air would go on advancing, and till it stopped it would go on receding When you were hungry you would have to eat, and when you were thirsty you would have to drink When your bladder was full you would have to piss, and when your bowels were full you would have to shit The legs had to move, so people had to go places, and so there were places they went The arms had to work too, and so people had to carry things, and so there were things they gripped and held All the while the atmosphere kept advancing and receding, the chest kept rising and falling, and maybe that was all, maybe that was life. This quotation sums up the philosophy of Anuk Arudpragasam s mesmerizing novella as well as anything could, but just about any page in the book would give the same message that life is simply something we are a part of, and we accept it as eventually we accept death It is a long quotation in fact the full paragraph is twice this length because Arudpragasam takes his time to examine everything, whether cataclysmic or mundane He spends an entire chapter describing his protagonist washing himself, four pages on him moving his bowels, countless paragraphs on the simple act of breathing in and out, as though no one function is important than any other I suspect that this is a Hindu philosophy, reduced to the very simplest terms Shelled field hospital in Sri LankaAlthough not specifically stated, the setting is clearly Sri Lanka in the last years of the Civil War, which ended in 2009 Government forces have pushed the Tamil majority towards the sea at the northwest corner of the island The civilian population flees to ever crowded camps, racked by disease and famine, and prey not only to Government shelling but to the cadres of their own side seeking ever younger recruits To avoid the exploitation of their teenage daughters, many parents try to get them married, in the hope that this may help them avoid conscription, or worse This is the spine of Arudpragasam s plot a devoted father, having already lost his wife and son, persuades a young hospital volunteer named Dinesh to marry his remaining child, Ganga The novella, which covers a span of 24 hours, is the story of their brief marriage Tamil girl soldiersI include these photos from the Sri Lankan Civil War, not as a parallel to the book, but as the real life background against which Arudpragasam does something quite different Indeed, the contrast between subject and style is his entire point, even though to readers accustomed to swifter action the result may seem boring Everything is leisurely and precisely detailed, whether tender or horrific it is certainly not that he sugar coats anything On the very first page, for example, Dinesh is introduced carrying a six year old who has already lost a leg, and is about to lose the opposite arm Shrapnel had dissolved his hand and forearm into a soft, formless mass, spilling to the ground from some parts, congealing in others, and charred everywhere else Three of the fingers had been fully detached, where they were now it was impossible to tell, and the two remaining still, the index finger and thumb, were dangling from the hand by very slender threads They swayed uncertainly in the air, tapping each other quietly, till arriving at last in the operating area Dinesh knelt to the ground, and laid the boy out carefully on an empty tarpaulin. But despite all the fear and carnage, what Arudpragasam paints is a portrait of Life, not triumphing over death as in the Western heroic tradition, but coexisting with it in the Eastern one And even though Dinesh hardly knows Ganga, he is so respectful, so aware of his responsibilities, that their brief marriage becomes a true love story though unlike any other you have ever read. It took me about a month to read this book The writing is so simple and precise, yet the experience is so vivid and visceral that it feels like magic I do a lot of reading before bed and this book would transport me and leave me exhausted, but not ready to sleep Set in a Sri Lankan refugee camp, it follows Dinesh, who has lost everything, through a single day The title already tells you the main plot Dinesh marries Ganga, in an act of either hope or desperation They may never live a normal life together, the odds of them both surviving the civil war are low, and yet this joining of two people who barely know each other adds something to the constant loss and destruction of their lives I know it sounds bleak, and it is But reading it you know you are reading something masterful Arudpragasam describes the physical experience of being alive in a way that makes your heart beat faster Jessica Woodburyfrom The Best Books We Read In August 2016 the review first appeared in The Hindu Business Line s Saturday supplement BLinkThe Persistence of the BodyThe final leg of the Sri Lankan civil war provides the setting for Anuk Arudpragasam s debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage The protagonist, a Tamil youth named Dinesh, is trapped, like thousands of other Tamil evacuees, between the battle lines and the sea A stoic narrator accesses Dinesh s inner life In the terminal world presented to us, it is understandably difficult to find the whys and hows Not surprising, therefore, that than a dozen times in the novel our view into Dinesh s thought processes is marked by a recurring sentence template why or how so and so happened, it was difficult to say Towards the end of the novel, after severe shelling from the Lankan army has annihilated the titular marriage between Dinesh and a young girl named Ganga, this difficulty becomes too much, so much that the narrator and we suspect Arudpragasam himself reneges its access into Dinesh s inner life The narrator s single sentence confession is supremely affecting, acquiring an incredible power as a limit is approached the limit where literature can do nothing but shake its head in the face of the intensity of human suffering one has no choice but to watch blindly from the outside not so much because one lives in different circumstances, in a situation of privilege nor because one is attempting in another language entirely but because, when such things happen to a person, their life becomes lost inside their body and ceases to find expression.The novel begins, too, in the aftermath of a shelling Dinesh brings an unconscious child, shattered arm needing amputation, to the camp clinic Later he wonders how the child will balance his body given that he has already lost a leg on the same side In the camp, severed limbs abound there is general madness a woman is gulping down sand Dinesh s mind, perhaps like some others , has found ways of shutting out the hell Each time, he achieves a perverse calm after the first shell lands, the deafening noise having muted everything thereafter.The mind, Arudpragasam seems to suggest, builds its own tiny reconciliations To cope, the mind may also choose momentary blankness, allowing the body a certain amount of discretion Dinesh noticed that the ground was no longer passing beneath him Such sentences occur than once.But Arudpragasam is aware that such dissociation with the body is untenable After all, one can lose one s mind, but one can t lose one s body For the body there are no lapses possible, no reconciliations on offer, nothing but physical reality waiting The body can t lie to itself This object that belongs to us, that is very nearly the totality of us, never stops inhaling exhaling, never ceases its need for ingestion excretion, never ceases to want hygienic upkeep Even in times of great distress, when death is imminent, the body s involuntary functions are never inhibited.It is Arudpragasam s focus in looking at the body and bodily functions, and his patience at extracting meanings from these, that make this novel a standout one In the first chapter, Dinesh takes a long, peaceful shit on the beach he also smells his own production in the third, he eats hungrily just after his marriage the marriage is not much than a symbolic way of responsibility fulfillment for Ganga s father, Somasundaram, who goes missing immediately after the tiny ceremony in the fifth, he cuts his hair and nails, washes his clothes, and bathes he smells his bodily surplus, again in the sixth, he comes close to having sex with Ganga in the seventh, he finds sleep after a long time and in the eighth and final chapter, when all is lost and the irreversible happens, he breathes Barring the end, it is difficult not to see Dinesh s situation as steadily progressive, and perhaps that was Arudpragasam s intention The feeling of disembodiment, an estrangement between a mind reconciled with death and a body that wants nothing than the performance of its functions, is one that Dinesh is shown to suffer from at the beginning This feeling dissolves itself as the novel progresses The mind begins to hope, and Dinesh grants the possibility, even if minuscule, of him and Ganga surviving the war and getting to be a married couple in ordinary life The body begins to relax, too he sleeps But then the outer world returns with its war and senselessness, leaving him shell shocked again.Arudpragasam seems to suggest that in extreme circumstances, healing, if it is possible at all, begins with the body But the revelation here is that even in extremis a body may communicate with that surplus that makes humans human, that concentration of subjectivity called the moral self It is a great tactic by him, mostly due to the perverse discomfort it causes to the reader, to have Dinesh persist with common decencies even in living hell With this superlative debut, Arudpragasam achieves heights that many literary fiction writers fail to approach in their entire lives It joins a hallowed literary tradition, with a long line that runs from the works of Dostoyevsky to Camus to Coetzee, with many detours such as Shalamov and Kertesz For young South Asian writers, Arudpragasam has done the service of setting the bar very high This reader will be shocked if the awards don t follow. Why this Book Recommended by Girish and urged on by Sharadha.I started the Book, felt disgusted and nauseous in initial two pages, was about to give it up when Sharadha said she is at 25% and it is good.Continued reading and was drawn into civil war ravaged life of Dinesh, a representative of the innocent citizens who are the ones whose lives get irrevocably damaged or changed by war.The author dissects Dinesh s single day , minute by minute and takes us into the intricacies of his surroundings as well as his mental makeup.I pitied and sympathised with Dinesh saw him collecting relics, eating rice grain by grain with great enjoyment, learning to accept things and people in his life , get married, reconcile to his new life, try to improve himself as a person And finally suffer and tolerate and improvise and rationalise Ganga is the girl he is married to..Would have loved to know her thought processes too..but she was presented here only via Dinesh s view point.A poignant story..A story that opens our eyes to the futility of war , without attempting to rationalise or abhor it. This book is overwhelming, in every way possible From the first sentence 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 his right arm to the last, it is simply captivating and heartbreaking and it gave me all the feels Given the title, you know going in to it how the story will end, or rather that this isn t going to be a tale of happiness and you re not waiting around for anyone to be saved And honestly, I ve never seen or read horror rendered within a novel written with such poetry and visceral detailing The story itself takes place in a war torn Sri Lanka near the end of the civil war, and our characters are living in a refugee camp during the span of about 24 hours And really, it s very much a contemplation of what it is to be human, and our narrator Dinesh takes you into his world as life unfolds regardless of war Reading about the shellings and bombings in the novel feels like I could be reading about what s happening in Yemen or Syria or Somalia, which is just absolutely devastating It s an incredible piece of fiction, and I highly recommend. Recently I saw a quote by Virginia Woolf, from A Room of One s Own, about novels with integrity, and I realised it could also work as an accurate description of this book This book affords its characters, especially the main character Dinesh through whom we see this war ravaged slice of world, dignity I think there is an ethics to this careful, precise, philosophical writing That anyone who writes like this must consistently value the moral in process of creation and the responsibility that comes with it I realise this is a slippery slope, to attribute some quality to the author of these words as though the author and the words are one I remind myself that all art is artifice and language, especially when artfully constructed, can deceive us But I also want to believe in the conscience at work behind truthful writing Otherwise, what is the point of writing and reading A longer piece that I wrote for Pop Matters is available here. Happiness and sadness are for people who can control what happens to them After reading this one, I found it really hard to channelize my thoughts and feelings about it These are pages filled with wonderings of a man s mind under horrors of war Dinesh, one of the evacuees in Sri Lankan Civil war who had lost his family and belongings is being approached by a man with a marriage proposal In a situation where no one can control events of the day leave alone thinking about future, Dinesh and Ganga are brought together by this arranged marriage The story continues to tell us how love and hope find place in us regardless of how vulnerable the situation is.A very poignant novel with matter of fact writing that would make a reader understand the feelings of an ordinary person under war The author had explained well their state of mind when they were brought together by arranged marriage and how they were struggling to fill the awkward silence between them Clearly there were things to talk about like scars on their body, unexpected fatal shellings around but that wasn t going to do any better They obviously didn t want to talk about their past and could not talk about their future When they started to find comfort in another s presence, Dinesh could finally overcome his inabilities to cry his heart out and get to sleep in solace Even though, throughout the story the character Ganga had been little muted, I constantly wondered what her perspectives would be on the things happening around her, since she was also there bearing every loss as Dinesh I can t help admiring the language even while it was filling me with such sadness Very deeply moving, this book is a simple work emphasizing the fact that love will give you solace under all conditions possible and that is the only hope for living in this dangerous world. 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 OnceAnuk 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 Definitely a hard book to read, but well worth it Set during the civil war of Sri Lanka, this book covers twenty four hours in the life of Dinesh, one of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence and devastation of the war Though it s incredibly slow in places and ends on a strange note, this book covers an important part of history that westerners rarely read about But, oh man, we need to.
Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the The Story of a Brief Marriage book, this is one of the most wanted Anuk Arudpragasam author readers around the world.
- 208 pages
- The Story of a Brief Marriage
- Anuk Arudpragasam
- 02 October 2019 Anuk Arudpragasam