By Sarah Hoenicke, for Entropy Mag
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
Flatiron Books (Macmillan), 2016
208 pages – Flatiron
In his debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, Anuk Arudpragasam has taken one day and stretched it to cover two hundred pages. The plot points of the book could easily be summed up in one sentence: A young man, traumatized by life in a war zone, goes slowly through the daily motions of life until he accepts a marriage proposal, which returns to him a sense of his future. But it takes precisely the amount of space used by Arudpragasam to endear us to his characters—Dinesh and Ganga—and to endow the novel with the emotional impact he intends.
Originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka, Arudpragasam is currently a Ph.D. student in Columbia University’s Department of Philosophy. Though this novel is set during the Sri Lankan civil war, which raged from 1983 to 2009, and all of the events in the book are shaped by the war, this is not a fast-moving, historically propelled story. Written in long sentences, much of the prose describes extended, uninterrupted periods of introspection. By meditating on the body and its functions, Arudpragasam deftly brings to life the trauma incurred by war, and the healing made possible through even the most basic human interactions and rituals.
Dinesh is a young man who has grown up during the war. He is encamped on the east coast of the country, along with many other displaced Sri Lankans. They have been pushed to the edge of the island by the fighting in the west, north, and south. Not only does Dinesh exist in continuous fear of the abrupt end of his life, he must also be on constant alert for soldiers who would forcibly recruit him into the fighting. When we meet him, he has lost his family, and is living alone in the camp. The book opens as he helps to amputate the arm of a young boy, who has already lost a leg in the daily raids.
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