Set during the early years of Sri Lanka’s three-decade civil war, Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan is a heartrending portrait of one woman’s moral journey and a testament to both the enduring impact of war and the bonds of home.

Sixteen-year-old Sashi wants to become a doctor. But over the next decade, as a vicious civil war subsumes Sri Lanka, her dream takes her on a different path as she watches those around her, including her four beloved brothers and their best friend, get swept up in violent political ideologies and their consequences.

Visceral, historical, emotional. It is 300 pages of must-read prose.

Anna Whitehouse

Brotherless Night

by V. V. Ganeshananthan

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Describe your book in one sentence as if you were telling a friend.

A woman from Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community recalls her youth and learning to practice medicine in Jaffna during the first decade of the country’s civil war, a period that irrevocably altered her future and those of her four beloved brothers.

What inspired you to write your novel?

I grew up listening to the stories of friends and family who had lived through this period in Jaffna. I was especially moved by the stories of women who worked to keep their families safe under brutal circumstances. I was also inspired by a nonfiction book called The Broken Palmyra, in which four Tamil professors at the University of Jaffna documented the violence civilians endured at the hands of majority Sinhalese-dominated state security forces, Indian peacekeepers, and Tamil militant groups.

Which part of the book was the most fun to write? Which was the most challenging?

I loved portraying Sashi and her four brothers; they have complex and lively relationships, are cruel and kind to each other, and share unexpected moments of wit and humour. As I wrote, they continually surprised me. Of course, much of the book’s source material is violent, and I was writing about the emotional effects of that violence. The biggest challenge of writing this book was depicting that brutality honestly, without either sensationalizing it or diminishing it. I needed to balance that with the stories of those who resisted.

If you could take one book to a desert island, what would it be and why?

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which contains all my favourite kinds of stories in one book. No matter what mood I am in I can find a section and a character to love.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I prefer to write in bed. Under duress, I will write on the sofa, but then I require the presence of my dog.

If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you be doing now? Where would you be?

If I had not been a writer, I probably would have been a doctor in New York City, like my narrator, Sashi.