I knew little to nothing about the civil war in Sri Lanka until I devoured this novel. Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan starts out with probably one of the best first lines I have ever read:
"I recently sent a letter to a terrorist I used to know."
I was introduced to this book and author at Literature Lover's Night Out hosted by my local indie bookstore, Valley Bookseller. After hearing that opening line, I was sold. Hook, line and sinker. It still gives me chills to read it. Brotherless Night will crack you open and show you the cruel truth about war and what it means to live freely. The main protagonist, Sashi, is a determined young girl at the start of the book and is an exhausted, heartbroken and valiantly strong women at the end. I am a sucker for a sweeping introspective character driven novel with a strong female lead and Brotherless Night is just that.
Set in 1981 Jaffna, sixteen-year-old Sashi wants to become a doctor. She navigates school while the civil war in Sri Lanka tears apart her country and she watches her four brothers and their friend K become swept up in the violent movement. Sashi is invited to work as a medic at a field hospital for the militant Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for separate homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. Sashi witnesses the cruelty of war that spares no one and changes her forever.
Brotherless Night spans three decades of the Sri Lankan civil war between the Sinhalese dominated government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgent group, known as the Tamil Tigers. The opening line is jarring because of the word 'terrorist' and Brotherless Night dissects the nuances of war and the connotations that word holds.
I was enraptured by V.V. when she spoke at Lit Lover's Night Out and explained her journey writing this book. The amount of time, research and shear dedication that went into every chapter, every page, every sentence is remarkable. She is also the most pleasant person. If you have the chance to attend her author events, jump on it. I highly recommend you add Brotherless Night to your #tbr. This book is a journey, so take your time and settle in, it will be worth the ride.
There are many content warnings with this book to be aware of before going in, including graphic and violent depictions of war including bombings, sexual assault, death of children, separation of family, etc.
"We understood the lesson. Carry on, students. Open your books, read while you can, and remember: there are people in our country who would burn what we love and laugh at the flames."
“Imagine the places you grew up, the places you studied, places that belonged to your people, burned. But I should stop pretending that I know you. Perhaps you do not have to imagine. Perhaps your library, too, went up in smoke.”
“Many people have died there: some killed by the Sri Lankan Army and the state, some by the Indian Peace Keeping Force, and some by the Tamil separatists, whom you know as the terrorists. Many people, of course, have also lived.”