Book Review: ‘Brotherless Night’ by V.V. Ganeshananthan

Unravelling the Threads of War, Loss, and Resilience


Book Title: Brotherless Night
Author: V.V. Ganeshananthan
Publisher: Viking
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 978-0241611081
Date Published: Feb. 23, 2023
Price: INR 424

Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan Book Cover

Book Review

Her compelling second novel, “Brotherless Night,” acclaimed American author V.V. Ganeshananthan, hailing from a Sri Lankan Tamil background, delves once again into the intricacies of family, war, and the profound impact of conflict on human lives. With her debut work, “Love Marriage”, having been longlisted for the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2008, Ganeshananthan cements her literary prowess in this heartrending exploration.

The narrative opens in New York City in 2009, with a striking first line that ignites the reader’s curiosity: “I recently sent a letter to a terrorist I used to know.” However, most of the novel’s beguiling tale unfolds in 1980s Sri Lanka, where the protagonist, a resilient female narrator, unpicks the threads of a Sri Lankan family torn asunder by the ravages of civil war.

Ganeshananthan’s literary brushstrokes craft a vivid and captivating portrait of time and place, inviting readers to journey back to a tumultuous period in Sri Lanka’s history. The narrator, Sashi, emerges as a compelling character within her upper-middle-class Tamil family, the sole sister among four brothers. Through her eyes, we witness her adoration for her elder brother Niranjan, a medical student, and her aspiration to follow in his footsteps. Alongside her brother Dayalan and his friend K, Sashi frequents the Jaffna Public Library—a sanctuary for their dedicated studies.

The novel skillfully navigates the impact of war on a nation, peeling back layers to reveal the tragic stories of those caught in its merciless grip. The complexities of allegiances, the profound losses suffered, and the shattered identities are themes that resonate throughout the narrative. As Sashi confronts the horrors of seeing a young life lying lifeless in the street, the agonizing experience of losing a brother to the very cause he fought for, and the heart-wrenching revelations of her other brothers’ dark deeds, readers are plunged into the raw and unforgiving reality of Sri Lanka’s strife.

Ganeshananthan’s masterful prose captures the essence of each character’s emotions and experiences, enveloping readers in a vivid tapestry of sights, sounds, and sentiments. Through Sashi’s eyes, we witness a journey of resilience, bravery, and unyielding determination in the face of unthinkable adversity.

The central theme of “Brotherless Night” by V. V. Ganeshananthan is the impact of war on individuals and the complexities of multiple allegiances. The novel explores the following topics:

The brutality of war: The book depicts the harsh realities of war, highlighting the violence and suffering experienced by the characters. It provides a clear-eyed depiction of the brutality of the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Loss and grief: The story revolves around the protagonist, Sashi, who experiences the loss of her brother in the conflict. The novel delves into the emotional journey of grief and how individuals cope with loss.

Identity and belonging:Brotherless Night” explores the complexities of identity and belonging in the context of war. The characters grapple with their Tamil heritage, loyalty to their community, and the challenges of navigating multiple allegiances.

Coming-of-age: The novel follows Sashi’s journey from adolescence to adulthood during a violent conflict. It explores her aspirations, dreams, and obstacles in pursuing her goals.

Empathy and understanding: The book emphasizes the importance of compassion and understanding in war. It portrays the characters’ attempts to connect, despite their differences and the tensions surrounding them.

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Brotherless Night” unflinchingly peers into the abyss of war’s brutality and its profound impact on individuals, a topic that transcends the boundaries of fiction. Ganeshananthan’s tale is a testament to the enduring human spirit, exploring themes of loss, family, identity, and the unbreakable bonds that persist even in the bleakest times.

As you turn the pages of this powerful narrative, prepare to be drawn into a world of heartbreak, courage, and unshakeable resolve.

Brotherless Night” is a poignant reminder of the indomitable strength that can arise from the darkest nights. It explores the brutality of war and its impact on individuals.

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