Published in print, 2017. Sinister Wisdom, Issue 106: The Lesbian Body.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies
By SJ Sindu
Soho Press, 2017
SJ Sindu’s debut novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies, follows Lucky, a queer Sri Lankan- American woman as she is confronted with the impending marriage of her best friend and former lover, Nisha. Lucky moves back home to help take care of her elderly grandmother, resparking her relationship with Nisha (even as the two plan the wedding). As Lucky watches Nisha prepare for her wedding, Lucky is forced to reconsider her own marriage and its motivations. Kris, her husband, is also gay and Sri Lankan. Theirs is a marriage built on mutually beneficial lies and double lives. After both being disavowed for their sexualities while in college, the two agreed to marry to win back the support of their families.
With its sense of intergenerationality, mother-daughter tension, and otheredness, Marriage of a Thousand Lies is evocative of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Lucky, named after the obedient goddess Lakshmi, is easy to like with a keen sense of irony, yet at times lacks energy. It is unclear why she remains so devoted to Nisha, when much of what we see between them is conflict, miscommunication, and sex. Many scenes leave Lucky (and readers) confined physically and emotionally as we see her fawning over Nisha, taking care of Amamama, avoiding calls, or stifled by on-commission graphic paintings. But she remains self-aware, often wrestling with the idea of freewill when, as a brown and queer South Asian, her story is already “written on [her head by the stars, by the gods, never by [her]”. We see Lucky truly live only when she is testing her strength with other women: dancing , kickboxing, playing rugby. Her narration is direct, urgent, and ostentatiously about herself. These moments are a gust of cool air, lifting the novel up while also bolstering Lucky’s character development.
It is not until the novel’s latter part that Sindu explores Lucky’s past and lineage when recounting the family’s flight from a civil war-torn Sri Lanka to the United States, as well as the painful divorce of Lucky’s parents. Both contextualize and humanize Lucky’s family and relationship dynamics. The last few sections of the novel pick up traction as this thread of family history touches on fear, rejection, and community in such a way as to bring understanding to readers and reconciliation to Lucky.
I hesitate to call Marriage of a Thousand Lies a coming out narrative because the novel goes far beyond that trope, both thematically and stylistically. Yet at its core, Lucky must decide between carrying on her own false marriage and being honest with herself, and others, about who she is and what exactly she needs. The beating heart of this novel is not between Lucky and Nisha, but rather between Lucky and her mother as both women struggle to protect each other from disappointment. Sindu’s debut is an important, worthy read.