Old and odd worlds may be doomed and it is questionable whether they deserve any regret at all, but so far they are not gone. In Inheritance they are gradually conjured up in a meditatively repetitive prose - sometimes sad and subdued, sometimes suggestive. The perspective of the stories is almost exclusively female. The strange first short story depicts the sheltered, or rather confined, life of a young girl in upper class setting, and how a marriage with a sexually uninterested man offers the young girl a paradoxical freedom from all bonds. In the second story a world with almost Victorian values stands out. In a strongly Anglicized upper class the example of the old colonial masters lives on. The actors themselves have aged, but stiff hierarchies and a ruthlessly stern moral have remained -- like the silence surrounding a disgraceful secret.
Some short stories deal with the high caste Tamil clans that Jean Arasanayagam herself married into, and that she has depicted in prose as well as in poetry. The familiar hidebound mother-in-law appears, and the author's divided sympathies become obvious. She has often described the conditions of outsiders who were excluded by the hierarchic order of the old society. In her own life, she was never accepted by her new family. This pain affects her work as an artist, and she returns to it again and again. At the same time, she sees that the rulers of the old order have been set aside by changing times, and she is capable of depicting the old mother-in-law's isolation with empathy and warmth. Sometimes an ancient, but changed, countryside is conjured up -- abandoned homes of childhood and fields, trees cut down, general decay.
Jean Arasanayagam does not restrict herself to stories of the fading upper class. One story in Inheritance is about a servant woman who dreams of leaving Sri Lanka and therefore repeatedly sending letters abroad -- to ever new addressees and with a new, made up identity each time. Another story gradually and carefully outlines a portrait of the deeply despised and deeply wronged Mudiyanse -- a man who has been robbed of his land in a family conflict.
Last but not least, Inheritance is an unusually beautiful book that S Godage & Brothers have published, decorated with a photograph of a family that could have been taken directly from one of the short stories.
Book Description: A collection of short stories.
More about Jean Arasanayagam
[Fiction] [Reviews] [Bookshelf] [Sawnet]