Orphaned by the Sri Lankan civil war, a young man hopes an arranged marriage might make his last days in a refugee camp more meaningful.
Under constant fire, Dinesh tends to the wounded in a makeshift clinic, where amputations occur as often as bombs—and without the niceties of anesthetic or surgical tools. As troops surround the camp—pushed to the edge of the sea by fighting—Dinesh meditates on what he feels may be his last moments: “All his life he had used his hands and feet, his fingers and toes, and knowing that soon he’d no longer be able to rely on them made him feel abandoned suddenly and alone.” His world, like the world of his fellow refugees, shrinks to the size of the camp: its trenches, an occasional bowl of rice, the wounded and dead and dying. When a desperate father approaches Dinesh with an offer of marriage to his only surviving daughter, Ganga, Dinesh accepts, hoping to ease the isolation caused by war and offer what little protection he can. “What they would do together, he didn’t know,” Dinesh thinks. “How husbands and wives spent their time he had no idea, but at the very least he would be able to sit beside her, to eat beside her, and think beside her.” With care and precision, Arudpragasam delivers a deeply contemplative, psychological portrait of war and how quickly language and memory fall away in the face of constant terror. Even the simplest acts—washing clothes and the body, walking—become opportunities for Dinesh to mourn the death of his mother or celebrate his new life as a husband. Arudpragasam writes in long, breathless passages, following the trail of Dinesh’s apprehensions about sex, survival, and intimacy. For all the bombs that devastate Dinesh’s country, this novel offers instead the “strange, weightless stillness” of trauma’s emotional aftermath.
An incisive glimpse into the brutality of war and the tender, human urge to connect in the face of death and destruction.