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The Crack Magazine


Brotherless Night

Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan is about family and community and how the monstrosities of the Sri Lankan civil war both fracture old ties and creates new ones in ways unimaginable before the conflict. The novel’s protagonist, Shashi, a Tamil, is a medical student training to be a doctor who has her old life torn apart, as her family struggles to survive in a new reality, “While I had some sympathy for Tamil nationalism taking hold in Jaffna, I did not know what it meant to feel an obligation greater than the one I felt to my family”. She tries to walk a line that encompasses care for her family but also the Tamil community and begins working at a field hospital run by the Tamil Tigers, where her brothers and best friend occasionally appear. What are their parts in the horrors that are unfolding? Partly because of questions like this and the evidence presented to her on a daily basis, she finds her solidarity to the cause fraying because there doesn’t seem much difference between the Tamil Tigers aka ‘the good guys’ and the Sinhalese army/death squads aka ‘the bad guys’, the moral line she keeps in her mind blurring and becoming hard to see, and as one of Shashi’s friends says, “I don’t know what will become of us if we can be no better than them.” Inevitably it’s just bad men using war for their own ends as the moral compasses of both sides are crushed in disappearances, tit-for-tat killing and massacres. Even the Indian Army, the so-called peacekeepers, fall prey to the moral vacuum of the civil war. As one character says, “So many terrible things have happened…all, it seems, at the hands of men…sometimes I just want to be in a room full of women”. Eventually Sashi helps to document the abuses she sees around her, “No sooner would we write something down than the Tigers, or the Indians or the Sri Lankan Army would follow in our wake, trying to erase it”. By the end of the book Shashi has seen too much violence inflicted on her close family, but also on her wider family and friends. No one has survived undamaged. Her country a shadow of its former self, haunted by the dead of the civil war. Brotherless Night is a harrowing, compelling and brilliantly written novel, a very worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024.

Brotherless Night - V.V. Ganeshananthan – publ. by Penguin - £9.99

Steven Long