By V.V. Ganeshananthan, Random House; $14
“This story does not have a defined shape or a pleasant arc,” cautions the narrator of this young journalist’s debut. “To record it differently would not be true.” This fair warning comes from a Sri Lankan immigrant girl with a methodical and stoic bent (empathy comes to her “like a foreign creature”). She decides to excavate her family’s history after an uncle leaves the vicious Tamil Tigers (Sri Lankan guerrillas who pioneered suicide bombing) to die among his North American relatives. The fragmented narrative that follows is the most innovative thing about the book—and the weakest, because it dissipates some of the emotional impact and also encourages a paradoxically showy kind of clipped prose. (Colons: lots of them.) In the end, though, this is an ambitious family drama about an underreported part of the world, filled with well-shaded characters—which, combined with the occasional gorgeous flourish (a sky “turning from black to dark blue and beginning to forget the stars”) more than compensates for some freshman overreach.
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