Cover Image: Brotherless Night

Brotherless Night

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How do I say this book was a pleasure to read when the content was so devastating. The writing was beautiful, the characters were human and I didn't want it to end. Now I must go find out more about Sri Lanka and the years of unrest. Read this book immediately it is so amazing.

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Wow. What a read. It was both heartbreaking and compelling. This well written, first person narrative told the violent history of the civil war in Sri Lanka and detailed personal struggles as well as societal struggles. This was definitely and education for me. Thanks #NetGalley

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Brotherless Night takes place during the Sri Lankan civil war and we follow the story of Sashi and her family. This story gives a very realistic view of war, connection, and survival. An historical fiction gem that tells a story that I haven’t read much about - highly recommend!

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for this ARC.

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I absolutely devoured this book - it was heartbreaking and beautifully written at the same time. I was invested in Sashi's world as we followed her along as she hit roadblock after roadblock. I thought the writing style was excellent- I learned so much, but also it was EASY to understand. The attention to detail from V.V. Ganeshananthan was phenomenal and normally where I would probably get confused with the conflicts of war- I wasn't. I was enthralled, enraged and devastated. The author brings all these characters to life and then simultaneously destroys everything you hope and wish to see happen. The love story woven throughout really hit me hard- well, all of it did but I was really holding out for Sashi.
I cannot recommend this book enough, I didn't think this would be the book I stuck with right now in my mini-book slump, but it really kept me wanting more.

I wished there were resources at the back for further reading, I am very interested to learn more about the Sri Lankan War and immerse myself into the rich history of the people and the land.

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Review // Brotherless Night
The story focuses on Sashi, a young Tamil woman who lives in northern Sri Lanka in the early 1980s with her parents and four brothers. Sashi wants to study and go to medical school, but as tension grows in the region, two of her brothers and a close friend join the militant Tamil Tigers. Sashi is talked into becoming a medic at a field hospital, but becomes disillusioned by the indiscriminate violence on all sides: the Tigers, the Lankan security forces, and even the Indian peacekeepers. She begins to document the atrocities and human rights violations, a particularly dangerous form of civil disobedience in the middle of a civil war.

Although Brotherless Night is about the 26-year long civil war, it’s also about the impact of sectarian violence on several generations of young men and women. I think Ganeshananthan is interested in exploring the lives of those along the outer edges of the conflict, especially those whose own actions might end up being morally hazy. When one brother joins the movement and another brother refuses, what happens to their family? How far are you willing to go to protect your people, your parents or yourself? Do you join, support, resist or inform on your own brothers?

I found the book powerful, well researched, restrained and ambitious. After a riveting start, the pace in the middle section slowed down, but picked up again once the storylines shifted in the last third. The writing often feels straightforward, prosaic and academic while drawing on research from the war. In other moments, the writing is more poetic and beautiful, especially when we feel Sashi’s despair or, more surprisingly, in a spectacular description of a suicide bombing.

Overall, Brotherless Night provides a clear-eyed, poignant and sensitive view of the unspeakable horrors of war, challenging our assumptions about those who perpetrate violence and those who find other ways to resist.

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Brotherless Night, even from the title, is an intriguing book. The title refers to a night when Sashi, our protagonist--a young Sri Lankan woman leaving high school and about to embark on the entrance exams for medical school--is without any of her brothers, to whom she has been very close all her life. Sashi finds that her brothers (save one) have either been killed in rioting or have joined the separatist militia fighting for Tamil independence. Sashi wants to go to medical school to learn to help people. Her older brother and her best friend mentored her and all was going well until her friend joins the separatist militia and her older brother is killed, setting Sashi somewhat adrift. Her brothers that have joined the militia disappear for months at a time on secret missions, and when they do reappear, it is usually to demand food or support for the cause.

The Sri Lankan government, emerging from the British colonial era, embarks on its own colonial project, instituting and formalizing racism against the Tamil ethnic minority. Over a course of decades, Tamil people are segregated, given the worst jobs, discriminated against, their language minimized, and their library eventually burnt down, which is quickly interpreted as the act of cultural genocide it was intended to be. When politics fails to solve the problems, civil unrest turns to riots, and eventually the Tamil Tigers separatist group go on to declare war on the government of Sri Lanka. As Sashi observes, there is no one day on which a war starts, though. A war builds up, as incidents occur. For over a quarter century, Sri Lanka was plagued by a brutally cold and cruel civil war, with atrocities against civilians becoming the norm from all participants in the conflict, including Indian "peacekeeping" forces who eventually occupy Tamil regions of the island.

Much of the violence against Tamil individuals is committed by the Tamil Tigers (and to a lesser extent, splinter groups). The populace becomes all too acquainted with death, rape, bombings of homes and shops of people who don't support the separatists and appropriation of homes when the separatists need places to operate and house their fighters. A movement that started out with relatively broad support of the Tamil population eventually splinters, and each splinter group sees the others as traitors worthy only of death. They see civilians who don't support them as traitors. University professors and others who try to mediate peace are seen as traitors and imprisoned and shot by the terrorists. "Freedom fighter" might have been an apt description in the beginning, but after years of atrocities, terrorist is the word the protagonist chooses to describe her brothers and friend who've been roped in by the movement.

Sashi makes it into medical school, trains under a kind, patient mentor who sets an example of selfless service to all (not just to one side or another in the war), and is eventually murdered for her willingness to be impartial. Only in her first year of medical school, but already having shown her skill and attention to detail, Sashi herself gets pressured/recruited to work as a doctor in one of the Tigers' field hospitals, providing life-saving medical treatment to injured fighters and civilians. She sees firsthand the nature of the war, but determines that being a doctor means using the healing arts to help anyone in need. For her skills, and because her family has already lost sons to the fighting, she is eventually rewarded with the opportunity to escape the country and the on-going threats should she remain.

Throughout the book, we see the tension between familial duty and relationships, gender norms and roles, ethnic ties and the place of a family in a larger community. What is expected of Sashi's brothers and herself, and by whom, is a large part of the struggle. The brutality of the civil war is front and center throughout the book. When the persecuted become the persecutors, their moral authority and ability to persuade people about their rightness is lost, and all they've got left is violence and coercion.

The nearly thirty-year Sri Lankan civil war brought untold devastation to countless hundreds of thousands of people. Do separatist movements have legitimate standing on an international stage? How far is too far, when fighting the government? The book includes a stinging indictment against the UN, suggesting that they deemed the number of civilians at risk not significant enough to require intervention. What should be the international community's response to a civil war? How should civilians be protected? All of these questions are posed and considered, though the answers may not be had so easily.

And even though the answers are not easily sought, the only way forward toward solutions is to openly discuss the questions, to openly talk about the atrocities on all sides. Some of the more famous incidents of the civil war are talked about in the book. Digging even further below the surface will bring the reader into contact with the even more gruesome reality of these extremely sad historical events.

Though covered in the international press for years (which I followed), I suspect most Americans are probably unaware of the extent of the Sri Lankan civil war. Most Americans' lives have not been touched directly by the realities and exigencies of armed conflict playing out in their own streets and towns, their schools, hospitals, and homes. Reading a novel set during a modern conflict that played out half a world away can help Americans not only to know their world better, but to empathize with those whose voice was stolen for so long. We may find that many of the lessons and issues are more applicable to our own circumstances than we thought, at first.

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𝗕𝗥𝗢𝗧𝗛𝗘𝗥𝗟𝗘𝗦𝗦 𝗡𝗜𝗚𝗛𝗧 by V.V. Ganeshananthan has been one of those books where the more I think about it, the more I like it and I keep thinking about it. It’s a family story embedded in a tragic history lesson. As the story opens in 1981, we meet its narrator, Sashi, a 16-year old Tamil girl living in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. She has three older brothers and one younger, and of course her parents. They’re not without resources, and all place a high value on education. Her eldest brother is almost done with medical school, a career path Sashi also hopes to take.⁣

Tensions are high in Sashi’s homeland. The Tamil people become more and more outspoken about wanting their own leaders rather than the ruling Sinhalese majority. What follows is a history of the first ten years of the Sri Lankan Civil War told through the lens of one Tamil woman caught in the middle. Sashi’s story is brave, heartbreaking, tense, unexpected and truly eye-opening. I’m always amazed at how much I don't know. Initially, I was a little put off by the very linear structure to the story, but over time, I came to appreciate it. Sashi tells her family’s story looking back on it from 2009, and at times speaks directly to the reader from there. That was truly special, as was the entire book. It’s one I can highly recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction or just wants to know more about the world we live in. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫⁣

Thanks to @RandomHouse for an ARC of #BrotherlessNight

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Read difficult books. Read books about places you've never been. Read books with words in a language that you don't know. Read books about a time that you're not familiar with. Just read. I have to admit that I had a very hard time reading Brotherless Night. I put it aside several times and picked it back up several times. I'm glad that I finished it. Reading about places and times that you're not familiar with is difficult. Difficult books are the best books.

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This book was a LOT. It took me awhile to read just because the subject of the story was really heavy, and I found that this is not a novel you binge read.

This novel is beautifully written, honest, detailed, and heartbreaking. It’s a lot of narration, which makes it a little slower of a read as well.

With every person in Sashi’s life that she lost, I was devastated. Yet she persisted.

It was interesting in the writing the narrator occasionally breaks out of the story and addresses the reader, and I wasn’t sure that was entirely necessary, but it didn’t pull from the story too much.

I thought the ending came up a little fast? Especially with the slower pace of the rest of the novel.

Overall, this is a tough read, I would definitely recommend to anyone who reads historical fiction! 📚

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This book swallowed me like a tidal wave. The writing is gorgeous, evocative, powerful - and yet, simple. Striking. The sentences resonate like the toll of a heavy bell, each pendulous turn exposing a new sliver of tension and intention in the reader's mind.

Ganeshananthan uses a number of little techniques that she pulls off effortlessly; brief passages where she switches to writing in the second person, and you could swear she had stopped her train of thought to pause and take your hand in hers as she recounts the thrum of loss, urgency, and duty that pounded in her own chest. At other intervals, although the text is written in English, Ganeshananthan invites the reader to savor the phonetic quirks of a particular word in her mother tongue, describing its syllables, the way its familiarity could almost light a match to illuminates an otherwise dark moment.

This is a story about war but it is not about the fighting. It is about the thousand heartbreaks that are accumulated in the tensions leading up to conflict, as well as the fear and uncertainty of the worrying and the waiting, the way it can fracture a family the way even a tiny splinter of a crack can arc like lightning across a glass surface that was once whole but will never be described as such again.

I will recommend this book to everyone I know, and I will read it again and again. It's an absolutely staggering work of insight, humanity, and emotion described so vividly you might swear you had been there yourself.

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One of the best books I read in 2022. I did not know much about Sri Lanka’s Civil War and the Tamil Tigers prior to reading this book. I’d heard of it before and knew the conflict dragged on for a long period of time but, like many conflicts in so-called Third World Countries, this isn’t something you learn about in Canadian schools.

​This novel reminds us that the impacts of war extend far beyond politics, and of the sacrifices and hardships that war puts on families and young people.

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Brotherless Night is a dark, painful, and gorgeously rendered novel set during the sri lankan civil war.

Sashi and her family are embroiled in unrest in Sri Lanka that eventually turns into civil war. Ganeshananthan's novel is less interested in taking sides than in probing the moral complexities of belonging to a particular side, to what constitutes a 'terrorist', and the ways that words and labels allow people to construct themselves as much as people construct them.

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<i>“And everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve done since the war started—I’ll tell you what I know from there and from the university. I want it to be written down, the way it was in the Report I saw. I want it to be written down as I know it happened. Not the government’s version and not the Tigers’ version. Not the Indian version. Ours.”</i>

When I closed this book, I felt that I had read something beautiful. But how can that be when it is full of such tragedy and sorrow? It is because of Sashi and the way in which she unfolds her story for us. One that begins when she is a child, those early years during which she and her four brothers studied for their futures, enjoyed the warmth of bonds a happy home will engender. “As siblings,” she will say, “we had cupped our hands around those tiny flames of shared laughter: the intimacies of family habits and histories.”

For many years, the minority Tamils of Sri Lanka faced discrimination and violence at the hands of the government. The Liberation Tigers of Eelam formed in hopes of gaining an independent state. What began as resistance became terrorism that was met with terrorism, killings that were met with reprisals. A tipping point led to a vicious pogrom, Black July when a Sinhalese mob rioted, beating and murdering Tamils, burning their homes. This would be the beginning of war wherein those who were protectors became murders and rapists and when the Tigers became tyrants of their people.

Sashi and her brothers are pulled into the chaos, some willingly and others because of Tigers’ requests, orders in disguise. Sashi will have to make difficult choices while struggling to maintain her safety and her moral compass. She will say to the reader, “I want you to understand: I was not born to fight for a political cause. I did not feel chosen.”

The story of this family’s struggle is what makes this book such a compelling read. Sashi will say that she does not have affection for the dramatic so will describe her story plainly. With this goal, her narrative flows on a breeze of gently maintained tension with pacing that creates a sense of urgency but is also grounded with strength and purpose.

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“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.”

In 1981 Jaffna, sixteen-year-old Sashikala “Sashi” Kulenthiren dreams of becoming a doctor just like her eldest brother Niranjan and her late grandfather who was a renowned physician in Colombo. But as the civil war in Sri Lanka intensifies and violence ensues between the warring factions- the Sinhalese government and the Tamil militants who are fighting for an independent state free of persecution of the Tamils, life as she has known it shall be changed forever. When one of her brothers loses his life in an act of anti-Tamil violence and two of her brothers and a family friend join the “movement” Sashi finds herself making choices and being drawn into a life she had never imagined for herself- a medical student also working as a medic for those serving in the movement. As she bears witness to the politics, the violence, and the activism of the 1980s she eventually embarks on exposing the true plight of civilians caught in the crossfire between the warring factions of the Sinhalese government, Tamil militants and the Indian peacekeeping forces through the written word with the help of one of her professors taking risks that could endanger her life and those of her associates.
“I want you to understand: it does not matter if you cannot imagine the future. Still, relentless, it comes.”

Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan is a compelling read. Set in the early stages of Sri Lanka’s three-decade civil war, the author takes us through the turbulence of 1980s Jaffna/Colombo including Black July and its aftermath, combining historical fact with fiction. The author writes with passion yet does not fill the pages with any excess – be it words or sentimentality. Narrated in the first person by our protagonist, Sashi, the tone is direct, often matter-of-fact yet there is much depth to the words, the characters and their stories. At times this book reads as a true account rather than a work of fiction. This is one of those rare books that is difficult to read yet impossible to put down.

Many thanks to the author, Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for the digital ARC of this exceptionally well-written novel. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

“It did not occur to me to count or prove, to measure our losses for history or for other people to understand or believe. I did not collect the evidence of my own destroyed life; I did not know people would ask me for it.”

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V.V. Ganeshananthan’s novel, Brotherless Night is an account of one Tamil girl’s struggles during Sri Lanka’s civil war which began in 1983 and lasted until 2009.

Unsurprisingly, after Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain civil unrest began as majority Sinhalese mobs carried out violence against the minority population of Tamils. This story of unrest after Britain’s exit from a nation it colonized is all too familiar (Nigeria, India, Hong Kong, etc…), so this story is not unique. However, it does highlight the complexities of the civil war and the ways in which, at times, it felt as if there was no “good” political option for the Tamil population to support and follow (the Sri Lankan government, the Indian government's armed forces or the Tamil Tigers).

As Sashi navigates completing her education (interrupted in the novel by the real-life event of the burning of the Jaffna Public Library), she comes to discover that it’s not only her education that she will sacrifice in order to survive the atrocities of the war.

While at times this story is plot-heavy, the main focus is on Sashi as a true heroine. She faces conflict after conflict and at times experiences insurmountable loss that would be debilitating for anyone. And yet, Sashi pushes forward in the only way that she can: helping others in order to preserve life, whether it is the life of a friend or foe. While she questions her morals and actions continuously throughout the novel, Sashi does not take the easy road in order to save her own life. Training to be a doctor and then later acting as a stenographer, Sashi fights to record the atrocious stories of the people who become collateral damage during war: the innocent people who are bystanders and those unwilling to take part but are forced to.

If you are looking for a historical fiction sprinkled with the terrible realities of the past, if you are looking for a family saga with strong female characters at the forefront, if you are looking for a story that, although heartbreaking, shows how flimsy and slippery truth is depending on who is recounting the events, then Brotherless Night is the perfect novel for you.

Prior to reading Ganeshananthan’s novel, I knew very little about the Sri Lankan civil war and what lead to it’s eventuality which is shameful since I attended high school with an incredibly smart and beautiful Tamil Sri Lankan woman: Sangita. She too studied to become a doctor. And now, I wonder if her family fled to Canada to escape the persecution of the civil war in Sri Lanka. I admit that this book took me longer to read than I thought because it was emotionally difficult to read.

Although this is a fictional account of the Sri Lankan civil war, the protagonist leaves the reader with questions that, as we watch controversial politicians hide and lie about the devastating things that their governments do to innocent people for no reason except that they are “other”, we should constantly be asking ourselves: “Whose stories will you believe? For how long will you listen? Tell me why you think you are here…” (last page of text).

Upon its publication, I highly encourage you to read Ganeshananthan’s novel Brotherless Night, a tale of love, sacrifice, and the ways in which war creates an inner struggle to “do the right thing” no matter the cost.
Many, many thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me an ARC of V.V. Ganeshananthan’s incredibly moving novel Brotherless Night in exchange for an honest review.

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Starting the new year off with a deeply moving, brutal account of the Sri Lankan civil war. The narrator addresses the reader in the Prologue, "You must understand", and I am on alert. Then, throughout the book, I am addressed again and again, gently, to make sure I am taking it all in. The narrator is right to be concerned, it's a lot to wrap my head around. I knew literally nothing about this history aside from the names of various groups, and I was wary when the narrator warned "that word, terrorist, is too simple for the history we have lived". It is uncomfortable, but morally speaking, I cannot imagine a more balanced, compassionate approach to these events. I highly recommend this book.

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Brotherless Night
By V.V. Ganeshananthan

This is the story of the nightmare of Sri Lanka in the 1980s thru to 2009. It is a novel based on truth. The Tamil minority were systematically terrorized by the government and the majority Sinhalese. The story here is a microcosm of what happens throughout the country – it is the story of a Tamil family, a mother, father, four sons, and a daughter. A family which is split apart in reaction to what is going on around them.

The protagonist here is the daughter, Sashikala or "Sashi", who wants only to become a doctor. But as her brothers, one by one, leave the family, Sashi herself must make difficult choices: loyalty to her family; to her Tamil people, to the Tamil tigers (terrorists)? Who needs and deserves her support?

This is a gut-wrenching story. It leaves the reader with many questions and few answers. It is a very difficult read, but one that should make readers understand how much written here could apply to all of us. I would recommend this to any serious reader.

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Thanks to Random House, via NetGalley, for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This book has a sweeping quality. It covers Sri Lanka’s three decades of turmoil starting in the early 80’s and depicts the very tragic conditions, especially for the Tamils. There is no hero but the enemies are prolific (and yes, sometimes the call is coming from inside the house). The main groups/factions conducted themselves in complicated ways and many transformed into multi-headed monsters. We see how the context evolves and various players unravel.

The author portrays the mix of historical factors with a confident pen. The writing is strong and does not falter. As a reader, I felt well considered in the storycrafting.

For the first third of the book, I felt that Sashi served as a recorder. She mostly describes what happens around her, as if she were a camera. This role seems to diminish later but it gnawed at me. I realized she often acted or reacted due to others. Was her powerlessness a metaphor? Granted she does have some agency—and often it was defined or prescribed by others or by the “situation.” Is that how life often is?

I’d recommend this title to get a glimpse of Sri Lanka and perhaps gain some insight into its current conditions. While reading this I reflected on her earlier book, Love Marriage. I got more context about the uncle character.

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A searing, tear jerker of historical fiction. I loved this book, even though it was so hard to read at times. A great book to delve into.

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Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of this wonderful book.

To start with, I was intrigued to read this book because I had only a scanty knowledge about Sri Lanka and the long running civil war there. Don't feel that you need any pre-knowledge of the country or the events - the book is well written and gives you plenty of information.

Our main character, Sashi, has four brothers, and winds up embroiled in the Sri Lankan civil war, partly by choices made by her brothers and party by chance and bad luck. She wants to be a doctor and is studying to be one, and gets pulled by her brother and his best friend into working as a doctor for the rebel forces, particularly the Tamil Tigers. Her own goal is to help people, not to take a political stand - but it's extremely difficult to avoid politics when you're in the middle of a civil war.

Because of the way the book is set up - with 2 brothers joining the Tamil Tigers, one killed by government forces simply in the course of his work as a doctor, and one opposing the rebels, we get a broader picture. I always prefer, if it's at all possible, to read a book that is not one-sided, and this book does cover the bigger picture. Yes, the government forces are pretty awful - but so are the rebel forces. No matter which side you're on, war is destructive and damaging, and this book allows us to see the big picture.

But most importantly, the author is able to show us the people involved - they're well drawn and it's easy to empathize with them all, particularly with Sashi. A terrific book - although it's largely unhappy, because of war and death and destruction, it's a compelling read.

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