V.V. Ganeshananthan’s debut novel, LOVE MARRIAGE, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize and named as one of the best books of the year by THE WASHINGTON POST. Her sophomore novel, BROTHERLESS NIGHT was released this month and is most certainly going to be on my list of favorite books of 2023.
Set during the early years of Sri Lanka’s thirty-year civil war, and based on sixteen years of research, BROTHERLESS NIGHT is an unflinching look at the cost of war to civilians caught in the middle.
The book opens in 1981 in Jaffa; Sixteen-year-old Shashi wants to become a doctor but her plans are upended as a vicious civil war overtakes Sri Lanka. The political becomes personal as Sashi’s family and friends are split apart by warring loyalties. When two of her brothers and a childhood friend join the Tamil Tigers, whose violent ideology has dire consequences for her family and community, Sashi is recruited to work in their field hospital at night, while continuing her studies by day. After the Tigers murder one of her favorite teachers, and Indian “peacekeepers” enter the conflict, Sashi joins another professor and her husband to document human rights violations as a mode of civil disobedience. It is a dangerous endeavor that launches Sashi down a path from which she cannot return.
“The story is already unbearable, but now you must shift how you see. Widen your lens, stand farther away, and see who the Tigers have left out of the picture, see who profits from the deaths of the ordinary people,” Sashi tells us.
There are plenty of villains in BROTHERLESS NIGHT, but as all fiction writers understand, both villain and hero can co-exist in one being. Though the Tamil Tigers were born of discrimination and persecution, they wrought their own violent justice, and the Indian “peacekeepers” perpetrated rapes and massacres on civilians. But out of the rubble, as is so often the case in war, there is a faithful remnant of civilians, like Sashi and her professor, who risk their lives to document injustice and give voice to the voiceless.
BROTHERLESS NIGHTS is an engrossing and heartrending read, and Sashi is a heroine for the ages. Ganeshananthan writes brilliantly about a complex subject, casting a spotlight on the forgotten heroes and victims of war.
Listen to my interview with V.V. Ganeshananthan on Superior Reads on WTIP Radio 90.7 Grand Marais on February 23 at 7:00 pm and February 25 at 6:00 am, or stream it from the web at www.wtip.org.