A collection of stories about a family for whom the Sri Lankan civil war is a constant backdrop.
The Sri Lankan civil war, a bitter fight between the country’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils, lasted for decades; tens of thousands of people died. In Kumarasamy’s first book, that war is always present. At the center of these stories is a family: Nalini, her father, and her two sons, Arjun and Karna. During the war, Nalini’s mother and twin brothers were brutally murdered. She and her father manage to flee to New Jersey, but the war, and their grief, follows close behind. Each story takes a different vantage point: In one of them, Nalini is a child, making friends in their dinky apartment complex; in another, she’s a grown woman with teenage sons. The stories vary between characters’ points of view as well as location and time. The result is a kaleidoscopic vision of a family. While the book is moving and the writing elegant and clear, the collection begins to feel almost like a writing exercise, moving from third-person to first-person and back; when it finally comes to the rarely used second person (“You are thirty but can pass for someone seven years younger”), the effect isn’t nearly as surprising as it might otherwise have been. It might be that Kumarasamy’s control on the stories is too tight. One wonders what might happen if she were to loosen her grip.
An otherwise moving collection feels overly prescribed.