Anuk Arudpragasam’s debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, takes place over a single day near the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. The novel’s protagonist, Dinesh, has been pushed, with fellow beleaguered citizens, to the coast. When we meet him, he is living in a camp, helping tend to the wounded and bury the dead, his existence overwhelmed by the needs of those around him. Civil war raged in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009, but the novel doesn’t detail the history of the war. Instead, it is driven by Dinesh’s internal life, like this moment during a wave of shelling:
While keeping us anchored in Dinesh’s body and immediate experience, Arudpragasam is able to talk more broadly about the nature of life in a war zone. Bombing wouldn’t usually be thought of as a calming experience, but for Dinesh it brings mental silence, a break from the constant work of existence within a foundering country. While this isn’t a true story, it reflects behaviors observed near the end of the war. It became common for families to marry their children quickly—especially their daughters—in hopes of saving them from the violence, sexual and otherwise, of the army. Such a marriage gives the book its title, and imparts on Dinesh a renewed sense of his future amid the ever-pressing present.
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