Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Chief Inspector’s Daughter - A Short Story by Hasantika Sirisena - 2016

A Very Good Background Article on the causes of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka

I found this article very helpful in understanding The historical basis for the conlict in Sri Lanka between those of Singalese heritage and Tamils which has resulted in over 100,000 deaths.  This is the legacy of British Colonialism, 
going back over 200 years. Today's story arises from this history.

“Sri Lanka is a paranoid country. Twenty years of civil war makes us jump at our own shadows. Everyone has stories like Siva’s. Stories of cars and vans that come in the day or in the middle of the night." - from The Chief Inspector's Daughter

Today's story is set in the capital city of Sri Lanka, Columbo.  Narrated by a nineteen year old Singalese woman, a medical student and the only child of the chief inspector of the police department.  He was a widower who has seemingly no interest in remarrying.  They are very close and it expected she will take care of him in his old age.  Her boyfriend, also a medical student is from a wealthy Tamil family, a relationship unacceptable to both their families.

“We speak English to each other because I do not know Tamil, and he does not speak Sinhala unless he must. There are other things that divide us—different gods, different history—but Siva and I also have at least one thing in common. I want to urge him to find somewhere else we can drive to. I want nothing more than to ease the burning I feel whenever I am near him. The pure physical need that overcomes me too often these days

One night they are parked in a secluded area. Four Tamil men and a prostitute are found the next morning murdered execution style near the spot where they parked.  The woman asks her father if this could be the work of the Singalese Army or the police. She knows people have been tortured at the station where her father has an important job.  Her boyfriend begins to fear his family will be targeted, maybe murdered.  The daughter leaves the house one night, just walking around.  Two of her father's police officers find her and bring her home.

Things go terribly wrong between her and her father.  

I will leave the rest of the plot untold.  Hasanthika Sirisena brings out the impact of the ethnic hatred on a personal level.  A family is badly damaged.  Maybe the two medical students could have made a good marriage, bringing grandchildren for the widower.  His daughter tells him she hopes he dies alone.

This story appears in the debut collection of Sirisena, The Other One. This is a powerful story and for sure more of her work will be featured on The Reading Life.

Hasanthika Sirisena’s essays and stories have appeared in The Globe and Mail, WSQ, Narrative, The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Narrative and other magazines. Her work has been anthologized in Best New American Voices, and named a distinguished story by Best American Short Stories in 2011 and 2012. She is a recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. In 2008 she received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. She is currently an associate fiction editor at West Branch magazine and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Susquehanna University...from her website

This story is part of The Short Stories by South Asian Women Project.

From the author's Website

"Set in Sri Lanka and America, the ten short stories in this debut collection feature characters struggling to contend with the brutality of a decades-long civil war while also seeking security, love, and hope. The characters are students, accountants, soldiers, servants. They are immigrants and strivers. They are each forced to make sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, choices. What they share, despite what they’ve endured, is the sustaining power of human connection."

Oleander Bousweau


Mystica said...

I am Sri Lankan and I am constantly amazed at the number of excellent authors out there of Sri Lankan origin I've never heard about. I only hear of them through the blogs and have found some excellent writing as well. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Mel u said...

Mystical,. So sad to hear of the bombings.i hope you family are safe. Best. Mel