Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Review: Love Marriage

Title: Love Marriage

Author: V. V. Ganeshananthan

Publisher: Random House

# of Pages: 320

Rating: 5/10

Favorite Line: I grew up cautiously, and when I met your mother, I did not want to be cautious anymore. America is not a cautious country. I felt safe enough to gamble, you see, and I had found something, someone, worth gambling on.

From Publishers Weekly
Several generations of a Sri Lankan family touched by the country's civil war confront the limits of ethnic and familial allegiance in Ganeshananthan's forceful but patchy debut. First-generation American Yalini, daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil parents Vani and Murali, is an awkward 22-year-old who has spent her youth burdened by family secrets from their lives before emigration. Confronted with her enigmatic dying uncle, Kumaran, who had a shadowy role in Sri Lanka's insurgent Tamil Tigers, Yalini is driven to examine her relatives' marriages as a means of figuring out their alliances and her own unsettled identity. Her parents fell in love in New York and escaped arranged marriages back home; her grandparents, aunts and uncles have their own stories; Kumaran's 18-year-old daughter chooses to wed a Tamil Tiger financier. Written in short blocks of text, the book is structured as a kind of day book where Yalini records her progress. Repetitions create a meditative mood, but dull the book's emotional core and make emphasis on marriage seem forced. The most vivid character, Rajie, the daughter of an old family friend, appears only briefly. And the issues that plague Yalini remain vague until the last third of the novel, when the narrative suddenly takes on real power.

I think Publishers' Weekly is pretty much spot-on with its above review, except that I don't think the narrative took on real power in the last third of the novel. I don't really know what to say about this book- I don't even know why it was entitled "Love Marriage." The book talks about several marriages through the past few generations, certainly, but there isn't one that stands out as being the "love marriage" and it didn't seem as though there was any sort of over-riding theme for the marriages, either.

I found the book odd. I am a 25-year-old American girl, the daughter of immigrants from South Asia- really, I should have been able to relate to Yalini's story. But I did not. She wrote her words as though she were 80, looking back on her life and the lives of the people before her- I don't know why the author made her a 22-year-old. Also, Yalini spends much of the book talking about how frightened she is, how she does not interact well with other people- why? We never find out the source of her anxiety. Why is she like that? Does she make an effort to change? Does she have friends? Does she talk to anyone who isn't related to her? We don't get any sort of closure on the subject.

We don't get closure on most subjects.

Yalini is mentioned, briefly, as having a friend in college- but that took up about five sentences of the whole book, and then he was never mentioned again. She talks with a girl, Rajie, who is by far the most interesting person in the book- but Rajie makes such a brief appearance, and then is gone. She talks about her cousin marrying a Tamil Tiger and says that that man is not a good person- but we don't find out what happens there.

Really, it seemed to me that the entire book was building up to something that never happened. I ended the novel feeling dissatisfied and let down. The five stars? At the start, I thought the writing was exquisite (later on, it seemed more forced). I think the author truly has a gift of writing, but I don't think this was showcased well in this novel at all.

I think the part that annoyed me the most about this book was the idea that, unless someone has gone through the same cultural experience as you, s/he will never really understand you. This is complete crap, in my opinion. Yalini makes a friend in college who is (gasp!) Caucasian, and then the tsunami of 2004 hits Sri Lanka, and he calls to make sure she's ok and to ask about her family, and she completely ignores the guy because she thinks he's just making a show of asking and doesn't really understand what she's going through. I don't think I can properly state how much this angered me. There are no words. It seemed to me that the author was justifying an entire way of life that was wrapped up only in the culture of the "motherland," even though the entire story took place in the United States and Canada. She made it seem that everyone involved with the story felt more comfortable in the Sri Lankan parts of town, and surrounded by other Sri Lankans. No one else was really involved in the story at all.

I don't know how this is viewed as normal and okay- when a person makes a decision to move across the world to another country, that country should feature somehow in the person's life. I understand that the original home is always important, and has a huge impact on personality and character. But the new home is important, too, and should not just be treated as an escape mechanism, used to get out of the violence and fear, but not for any other purpose.

I don't think I'm articulating this well at all, so I'll stop- but overall, I feel that the author probably lives a very sheltered life in the western world and feels this is justified. But personally, I think she's missing out on a lot that the western world, with its myriad of cultures, could offer.


  1. Too bad this book fell flat for you. I'm glad you gave it an honest review because it is the kind of book I rush to put on my TBR, not this time. Thanks!

  2. I think Yalini actually is 22 (which makes her narrative tone even more unbelievable). I think I know where you got 25, though. On page 4, Yalini mentions that her parents have been married 25 years. I'm not sure if it ever actually says what year Yalini's present is, but it does say she was born in 1983, which would have made her 21 at the time of the tsunami. Also, later on she mentions that she is 4 years older than her cousin, who is 18. Forgive me for nitpicking. :-)

    I think the author was probably about 25 when she wrote this book, since, by my calculations, she is about 28 now. I don't know what that says about the voice she chooses to use for Yalini.

    I'm sorry this book turned out to be a let-down. It seems like most of us that received it feel this way.

  3. I read and reviewed this too, we don't agree...but I still really enjoy reading your take on it.

  4. I was not very disappointed with the book but yes, I also found it to be confusing at times...I felt there were too many characters and many small pieces have been tried to be integrated in just 300 pages. To add to that the title is somehow not suitable with the overall plot.


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