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Brotherless Night

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I came into this book with very little knowledge about Sri Lankan history. This book is well researched, perhaps too much so, as parts felt heavy on the telling, light on the showing. The subject is heavy and war is central here.

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"Brotherless Night" is told from the perspective of Sashi, as a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka in the turmoil of a violent civil war. She's been inspired to become a doctor since childhood, but much of her life with her four brothers is in constant strife given their Tamil background and the constant persecution of their people by the Sinhalese mobs. Some of the scenes depicted in these pages is truly eye-opening and painful, and its small wonder how these constant aggressions pile up on Sashi and her family.

Years later, Sashi is finally able to pass the medical exams and matriculate into medical school. In her time as a student, she not only learns about medicine, but questions her own purpose and what to do with her newfound skills and knowledge. Much of this is inspired by her professor, and leads in her decision to join the Tamil Tigers, a revolutionary group that are fighting back against the Sinhalese and providing medical care to their injured people. Sashi must question is she's willing to put her own life, and the lives of those she cares about, in danger for a greater good.

I have to admit that before reading this novel, I had little knowledge of the history of Sri Lanka, and the constant strife that tore through this country in recent years. The civil war only recently ended about a decade ago, but it's mind blowing to even grasp the sheer violence and hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost because of it. V.V. Ganeshananthan gives readers a first-hand look at how it impacted the lives of just one family, and the sheer unfairness and helplessness that the Tamil people experienced. I appreciated the storyline, and how we were able to follow Sashi's growth as a person over time.

Nonetheless, I struggled with the writing and tone throughout this book. Told from Sashi's first-person perspective, much of the sentence structure felt clipped and limited; there was a lot of recounting of events, but I feel like there wasn't enough depth into Sashi's personality and emotions, and how she herself was immediately impacted. There's a lot of telling, but not much showing, and I personally think this is the one thing holding back this novel from being truly great.

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Brother's Night is a powerful novel that takes place near the beginning of the Sri Lankan Civil War, The novel chronicles a young Tamil medical student's experience as the Tigers separatist movement fights the Sri Lankan government leaving civilians in the crossfire both politically and physically.

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A hard, deep, heart wrenching story. We meet SashI and her family, who are torn in different directions by political factions, life and simple humanity. I had trouble reading this book and not just because of the language barrier, which I struggled with throughout. There are no warm fuzzies here, but a good, hard read.

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One increasingly hears loose talk in the United States that it will soon be time for a (second) Civil War. “Brotherless Night” by V.V. Ganeshananthan ought to be required reading before any misguided souls are allowed to take their next step.

The Sri Lankan Civil War began in earnest in 1983 and concluded with a brutally forced truce in 2009 that is still subject to flare-ups. The combatants were the ruling Sinhalese and the minority oppressed Tamil. Casualty figures vary, but the brutal fighting cost as many as 100,000 civilian lives, resulted in another 50,000 combatants’ deaths, and caused millions to be displaced. The events have been under-reported and remain poorly understood.

Ganeshananthan does a remarkable job filling in the blanks. ”Brotherless Night” exemplifies the very best historical fiction where facts are seamlessly woven into a narrative with fully believable characters who are plausible participants at pivotal moments.

“Brotherless Night” is rich in so many ways. It is an ode to Feminism, highlighting the essential centrality of women in peace and war. It is a love song to doctors, medics, teachers, and mentors who muster courage when called upon, even when their own lives are at stake. It is an homage to great literature. It is heartbreaking as war and conflict are always heartbreaking. Civil War tears families apart, disrupts lives of young and old, and only results in losers.

“Brotherless Night” is a marvelous, always engaging, and enriching read.

A word of caution: the depictions in several scenes are fairly graphic and potentially triggering.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for the eARC.

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This was a novel that was difficult to read but it opened my eyes to a civil war that I knew absolutely nothing about. Sashi is a young girl living in Sri Lanka, who dreams of being a doctor, but those dreams might not become a reality due to discrimination against her family because of her race. She has four brothers and anyone who is a Tamil is being persecuted. Her family has to deal with living in a country constantly afraid of disappearing or being beaten simply because of who they are. Some of her brothers decide they have had enough and join a group called the Tigers who are for forming their own separate country of Tamil people. However this group can be just as violent and dangerous as the people they are trying to oppose. Sashi must make choices about whose side she is on. She must examine her feelings for K, who is a family friend and helped save her life but also in the Tigers. Throughout the novel she will have to endure through many hardships in order to carve out the best life she can while trying to do what she believes is right.

The power of reading is one that can transport you to another time and place and help you empathize with what the characters are going through. This was definitely the case in this novel. I now understand so much more of the plight of people living in Sri Lanka. I feel like a better person for reading this novel. This was definitely not an easy read. I did struggle at times to keep reading as the text felt dense at times. I also found it hard to keep track of all of the different names and characters. I am glad I read this as I feel like I know so much more but it was a novel that I had to push myself to read.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Thanks Netgalley for allowing me to read this book. Sashi's lives in Sri Lanka during a Civil War. She wants to go to school to be a physician. Sashi is trying her best to survive during this unrest. This is an honest depiction of life during a war.

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We spend our lives wrapped in our own problems and needs ignorant or unphased by what has or is going on in the world until the headlines bring it home. Sometimes, even then, we glance at it and give it no thought. Brotherless Night does not let you do that. Thank goodness. The world is filled with disenfranchised people beaten down by caste, race, economics, etc. V.V. Ganeshananthan takes us to one such place, Sri Lanka, and delves into a vicious civil war through the eyes of Sashi, a teen with dreams of becoming a doctor and the people around her.

Unfamiliar with the plight of the Tamil people, the book is a masterpiece in creating a hopeful, crushing, agonizing picture of navigating and living in a war zone while trying to get on with your life. Sashi, her four brothers, their best friend and her female professor examine their hearts and brains to decide where their beliefs and ideologies fit within the fight for freedom and a possible separate state. Some of her brothers leave university to join the fight.

Sashi, at eighteen gets accepted to medical school but must wait until twenty to matriculate. Her goal is to never do harm and help anyone in need. She is recruited, in her first year, by the Tamil Tigers, the overriding leader of various revolutionary factions fighting the Sinhalese majority and eventually the Indian government, to provide medical assistance. She joins her professor and her husband in a very dangerous undertaking that could be her undoing.

The plot moves quickly. I didn’t want to put the book down. The historical background was a key character but never overtook the depth of the narrative. It was truly an amazing read. My only regret is that the book will not be published until January, 2023, and I will have to wait for others to read and discuss this important book. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for allowing me to read this book and provide my thoughts.

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