I haven’t seen too many people that have read or shared reviews of this one. But it somehow made it onto my TBR. And weirdly enough, I picked it up off my shelf just as Sindu’s most recent release was published. I didn’t even know a sophomore adult novel was expected, so that’s just a weird coincidence! Though since this debut was very impressive, I definitely plan to read her new one as well.
“Most people think the closet is a small room. They think you can touch the walls, touch the door, turn the handle, and walk free. But when you’re inside it, the closet is vast. No walls, no door, just empty darkness stretching the length of the world.”
Lucky knows that her Sri Lankan family/culture has a plan for her life, who she is and how she lives, that is basically inescapable. The fact that she likes girls doesn’t change that. So she has crafted a life based on lies, primarily her sham marriage to Kris – both she and Kris are gay, and date on the side of their “marriage.” But when Lucky’s childhood more-than-best-friend Nisha comes back into her life, looking for Lucky’s friendship and support (and more) as she prepares for her arranged marriage, Lucky faces some choices. She is caught by family expectations, between a sister that fully “capitulated to” a sister that fully “escaped” said expectations, the emotional wreckage of her grandmother’s illness and impending death, and Nisha’s needs, Lucky has to decide if she’s ready to be done living under the strain of her lies and finally live her own truth.
I think this might be the first book I have ever read by a Sri Lankan/Tamil author, and as always, the opportunity to learn about another culture through literature was one of my favorite aspects of this reading experience. There was so much fascinating information about Sri Lankan culture, specifically related to dance, engagement/marriage traditions, and some (Hindu) beliefs/mythology. Also, of course, there was the heartbreaking reality that Lucky and her sisters faced as far as the reality of their cultural family structure/expectations and what that meant for their lives, specifically their romantic/marriage partners. As the story focuses on Lucky, this review will as well, so the primary limitation we see is that being queer is just…not an option. (Though we also see that a non-Sri Lankan/community partner is not an option either, and Lucky’s sisters respond to that in diametrically opposite ways.) Anyways, even despite all (repeated) evidence to the contrary, Lucky’s family just ignores any indication of her true sexuality/identity. Watching the way that affects Lucky (and Nisha, and her sisters, and Kris), the choices she has to make and the numbness/distance it leads to, is devastating…all the more so for the fact that it’s all happening quietly/internally. (And though this is centered around a Tamil family, this is a horrible reality for so many; a universal, cross-cultural reality.)
A corollary to this that I found really interesting was the contradictory expectations of better/more opportunities abroad versus the inevitable foreignization, if you will, of the younger generations, as they are exposed to and accept the new perspectives available to them. There is a fine and complex line between honoring/following “old country” traditions and choosing to allow in the new mindsets that could have a beneficial impact. The split this line can cause in families, as members fall on either side or try to walk the tightrope, is so difficult. (I recognize that this may only apply in the sense of immigrants (by choice), as opposed to refugees (not by choice), and there is nuance there, of course.) But for the sake of consideration, the subtleties with which Sindu explores this concept were deeply raw and affecting.
Lucky’s journey to navigate her way through the thicket of parental guilt/protection, personal needs and identity and insecurity, supporting Nisha (based mostly in nostalgia, because she wasn’t getting a lot in return, it seemed to me), the benefits of community versus the limitations of it’s expectations, and the overall unsurety about how to be herself without letting anyone down (an impossible task even under the best of circumstances), and grief for her grandmother….it was a lot, emotionally. But beautifully rendered, with tension racking up for the reader as Lucky’s world spirals (and the inevitable denouement, in which someone will be hurt, approaches), through Sindu’s writing.
“Let me tell you something about being brown like me: your story is already written for you. Your free will, your love, your failure, all of it scratched into the cosmos before you’re even born. My mother calls it fate, the story written on your head by the stars, by the gods, never by you. Everyone is watching you, all the time, praising you when you abide by your directives, waiting for you to screw up. And you will screw up. […] As long as you follow your directives in the end, no matter how many lies you have to tell. But here’s the truth: I’m still lying.” (This may be said here about brown culture, but I think there are some real universal truths in here that a lot of people would rather ignore…)
“Immigration policies re-create heightened natural selection. The smartest and those with the most resources make it out, along with a handful of those who just get lucky.”
“I could pray, but here’s the truth: even if the gods are real, I don’t think they can liberate us.”
“Rewriting your fate is tricky.”
“The bride belongs to the man who brings her home.” (devastating mantra that Lucky repeats to herself throughout the novel)