The Story of a Brief Marriage
This is Arudpragasam’s first novel, but he writes with the composure and the confidence of a veteran, whose sentences shed the skin of what has unfurled previously, as a new stream replenishing itself across an otherwise barren plateau.
The book’s title, once Dinesh and Ganga extrapolate themselves – however briefly – from the front line separating the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army, and two become one after they are married, liberates Arudpragasam from the obligation to formulate a surprising denouement.
In other words, we are expected to assume that either or both are doomed: it has been written.
The horror of war, as graphic as any Pat Barker scene mired in the trenches of Flanders, is served up by Arudpragasam without histrionics or theatrical embellishment, but from the opening description of torn limbs and shredded bodies, living and dead, we unmistakeably descend into one of Dante’s circles of the pits of hell.
The prose which blossoms from this dungheap of catastrophe makes Arudpragasam’s achievement all the more remarkable, for each sentence snares our imagination and we cannot escape, emotionally or philosophically, from what Dinesh sees and hears.
Arudpragasam is a young man, so on a personal level, The Story of a Brief Marriage doesn’t draw on his own experience, but is a work of research and imagination: unlike The Divine Comedy, it is not intended as an allegory, and the prose, when served as reportage, is searing.
‘Most children have two whole legs and two whole arms but this little six-year-old that Dinesh was carrying had already lost one leg, the right one from the lower thigh down, and was now about to lose his right arm,’ is the first line of the novel, and the tone and pace is fastened.
We are plunged into the heart of a war zone, where the innocent are encircled by the omnipresent menace of death from the air, and the only way Arudpragasam can leaven the horror is to have the bombing ebb and flow.
And in this sabbatical Dinesh accedes to the request of a man, mourning the death of his wife and child, to marry his daughter in the hope that the victorious soldiers will be disinclined to rape a married woman.
The tenderness which Arudpragasam unearths in the most trying of circumstances is not spolied by a cloying indulgence, and he captures beautifully the amorphous lightness of Dinesh’s uncertain and awkward effort to become a husband.
But love is the weakest force in this environment and is no match for the long reach of internecine war. ‘But if they couldn’t talk about their pasts, what could they say to each other at all, given that there was no future for hem o speak of either?’ writes Arudpragasam, not yet a quarter way through the book.