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V. V. Ganeshananthan – Love Marriage

May 22, 2008

LibraryThing Early Reviewers68. Love Marriage by V. V. Ganeshananthan (2008)

Length: 302 pages, although many are half-pages.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Started: 20 May 2008
Finished: 22 May 2008

Summary: Yalini, our narrator, is a first-generation American born to Sri Lankan parents. When her family begins caring for her dying uncle, who was a leader of the militant group the Tamil Tigers, Yalini develops an interest in piecing together her family history, of learning the stories of her aunts, uncles, grandparents, and through them, the story of the place her family left behind, the place they can never truly leave.

Review: It seems as though recently there has been a glut of novels by young South-Asian women, or at least there has been a glut in my personal recent reading. And, thus far, they’ve all shared two main things: first, a sense of style and language that is very self-consciously avoiding any hint of the traditional novel format and striving for a lyricism to the prose – some more successfully than others. Second, all of these novels seem to think that because they are Politically Charged books about a Very Serious Subject like the Immigration Experience, that they are automatically good books. And, a third thing: while I don’t deny that these books are authentic and earnest and may be very moving in the right reader’s hands, thus far they’re just not for me.

Love Marriage fits this pattern nicely – flowy language that shifts time and tenses and speakers with no delineation, short, half-page vignettes with very little narrative thread, and no real plot to speak of. Now, I typically like novels that focus around family histories – I read all 1000+ pages of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour (twice!), for goodness sake – but that history needs to be in service to something else, it can’t just stand on its own. And yet, in this book, the narrator is woefully underdeveloped, more of a passive transcriber than a person (enough so that I forgot her name for large chunks at a time), and so when the book tries to draw parallels to her personality and life through her various bloodlines, it comes off feeling forced. Similarly, the history/political perspective contained in this book is interesting – not many of us know much about Sri Lanka – but that on its own is not enough to support the barely-existent plot. This book was really more of a series of character sketches than a novel, and while there was potential, I was left wanting more story to my story. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Readers who like this sub-genre more than I do – those who enjoyed The God of Small Things, for example – are probably the ones who would have the best luck with this book. Overall, though, I thought that while the potential is there, and many of the pieces of family history were interesting, the author never really managed to pull it together into a satisfactory whole.

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First Line: In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak only of two kinds of marriage.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2008 9:06 pm

    Hmm. I do tend to like the sub-genre. I’m a bit put off by the lack of plot, but I think I’d still like to read this. Perhaps if you don’t win the contest I could still send you my copy of Botany of Desire and you could send me this.

  2. May 23, 2008 7:57 am

    I’d be happy to trade – or even to just pass it along and share the ER love. I still have to fight my innate pack-rat-ish/book collector tendencies that scream “NO!!!” whenever I think about getting rid of a book, but I truly am running out of shelf space, and if I look at it honestly, I’m not really likely to suddenly get a craving to re-read this.

  3. May 23, 2008 8:40 am

    We could even just go ahead and trade, and you could pick something else for the contest. I really liked “Botany of Desire,” but unlike “Omnivore’s Dilemma” I probably won’t pick it up again. If you want to go ahead and do that, send me an email with your address and I’ll send you one with mine. I can send the book out next week.

  4. May 31, 2008 6:56 am

    Good review! You’ve hit the nail on the head with this type of novel. Have you read The Namesake? Although it was written from the perspective of a male narrator and did have a plot, it left me feeling very similar. I was glad that it ended.

  5. May 31, 2008 7:43 am

    Hmm, I do have The Namesake in my TBR pile (along with Interpreter of Maladies by the same author, and Inheritance of Loss), but given my recent not-so-great luck with Southeast Asian writers, they’re probably going to sit in my pile for a while longer – I’ve got to space them out.

  6. June 19, 2008 9:44 pm

    That was a well thoguht review. I read this too, and I loved it, I really did. It goes to show what one person loves, the other hates.

    I still did enjoy reading your take on it…thanks!

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