Anuk Arudpragasam: Within the Bounds of the Body

arudpragasam_dailyAnuk 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:

It was a loud, unbearably loud explosion, followed immediately by others, so loud that as soon as the first one came, the rest could no longer be heard. They could be registered only as the pervasive absence of sound, as a series of voids or vacuums in the sound sphere so great that not even the sound of thinking could be heard. The world became mute, like a silent film, and as a result the bombing often brought about in Dinesh a sense of calm.

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.

Read the rest of the interview here.