Twenty stories span most of the 20th century and several Sri Lankan families, emphasizing the pangs of exile and the wrench of breaking with tradition.
Mohanraj’s first collection opens in 1939 with “Oceans Bright and Wide,” which explores a couple’s decision to let their brilliant daughter, Shanthi, take a path that will lead to her leaving the country then known as Ceylon to study at Oxford. Their eldest daughter came home to live after an arranged marriage to a man who beat her; the parents show their love for Shanthi by letting her go. She turns up 16 years later in “The Princess in the Forest,” married to a University of Chicago professor she knows is betraying her. Her feelings about his affair are interwoven with the tale of Prince Rama, the woman he loves, and the bitterness that comes when his brother arrives in the forest to spoil things. In “Seven Cups of Water,” too-short, too-plump Mangai tells of her brother’s wedding day in 1948 and the seven nights thereafter, during which she encounters his bride in the family kitchen in an increasingly erotic connection. “Pieces of the Heart” introduces Shanthi’s athletic and studious daughter, Leilani, “a nice Tamil girl” and a student at the University of Chicago, who’s lured in 1966 to the roof of the library and into the beginnings of a love affair with her roommate, Sue. Later tales reveal the repercussions of the civil war in Sri Lanka. In “Mangoes with Chili,” a Sinhalese woman has a child by the Tamil boy her father refused to let her marry. When the troubles begin and her parents are killed, Himali brings the baby to Ashok; he leaves his wife, and the lovers emigrate to San Francisco. Their son Roshan appears again in “Challah,” now as a young hospital intern who becomes the lover of a gay doctor, only to reveal later that he, Roshan, is a married man.
Intricately interwoven stories featuring sensual language and surprising sexual twists.