Marriage of a Thousand Lies (Soho Press), a debut novel by SJ Sindu, is narrated by Lakshmi (called Lucky), a 27-year-old queer Sri Lankan Tamil woman living in the metro Boston area. When her mother finds romantic texts between Lucky and another woman while she is in college, her family almost disowns her. However, her marriage to her best friend Kris (aka Krishna) — a gay Indian Tamil man in whom she found a kindred spirit while in college, allows him to remain in the U.S. and her to stay intertwined in the fabric of not only her immediate family, but also the Greater Boston Sri Lankan Tamil community.
“There’s a saying in Tamil that a thousand lies can make a marriage. Here’s the truth: I’m tired of lying.” (p.264)
The saying Lucky refers to exists in other South Asian languages too, and it conveys a cultural obsession with marriage. The notion is, once the rings are exchanged, or the sacred thread is tied, an immutable bond is formed. In this sense, marriage is the end of the story — it doesn’t matter what kind of lies or hardships a person or family had to go through to tie two people together for eternity. The very act of doing so, whether it was in accordance with, or against the wishes of the young people getting married, is seen as a benevolent act in itself.
But what happens after the wedding? What happens after the flowers are cleared away the guests go home, and the new couple is left to face the reality of a lifetime together? Sindu’s Marriage of a Thousand Lies explores this question. Despite her continuous attempts to be all things to all people, or perhaps, because of it, Lucky finds herself struggling to feel comfortable in every aspect of her life.
Her marriage is one of convenience — she and Kris are close, but their “relationship” precludes either of them from seriously pursuing relationships with people they are genuinely attracted to. Her marriage may have saved her relationship with her parents, but her tension with them is only prolonged.
After her grandmother has an accident, Lucky moves back in with her mother to help, and she re-connects with Nisha, her childhood best friend. Nisha and Lucky were each other’s first loves, but now, Nisha is preparing for an arranged marriage with a man. Nisha is attempting to stay in the Tamil community’s good graces by pushing herself into a life that is prescribed for her.
Her mother agonizes over Lucky and Kris’s childlessness, forcing Lucky to try and appease her without revealing the true reason why she and Kris have not had a baby. When she moves back in with her mother, Lucky is plunged back in to the Tamil community, especially preceding Nisha’s nuptials, but the persona she wears for the various aunties and uncles is almost entirely fabricated.
However, she also feels like a stranger with the women who live in the Wellesley Rugby House that Nisha introduces her to; these women have long been “out” — they are comfortable with their queerness, unapologetic about it in a way that Lucky cannot bring herself to be. And so, no matter where she turns, Lucky feels like she doesn’t belong. Each tragedy is one she must suffer alone.
Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a deeply affecting work in many ways. Sindu’s use of symbolism to reinforce themes in the book is subtle, yet powerful, guaranteeing that the reader will glean more on subsequent reads. Additionally, her portrayal of female characters who are innately physical is one that is particularly refreshing. The women in this novel unapologetically express themselves physically — they cry, they laugh, they dance, they get drunk, they play sports, they have sex — and never with a sanitized tone.
As Desis, we’ve come to expect our Desi-ness to be portrayed in a certain way, especially in the West; via Bollywood, or crises about food, or culture, or religion. However, there are some less visible aspects of the South Asian American experience that Sindu describes perfectly — our tendency toward stoicism, our willingness to sacrifice personal happiness to maintain ties with family, and our inextricable ties with the larger community in which we were raised. Even as the reader experiences Lucky’s sorrow, there is something comfortable, familiar — relatable — in her experience.
Find out more about Sindu’s motivations and themes in her writing in this brief question and answer exchange, lightly edited for clarity and length:
In a contemporary literary landscape so devoid of South Asian representation, what motivated you to write?
That’s exactly what motivated me to write. There is such little representation out there for South Asians, and especially Tamils and queer South Asians, in the Anglophone literary landscape. I wanted to write myself into existence, if you will. I wanted to reach back in time and tell the young me, “you’re not alone.”
The marriage between Kris and Lucky seems to be the most authentic — while others have “traditional” marriages, they all appear to be based on mutual deceit. Kris and Lucky, however, know exactly what they’re getting with each other. Was this an intentional decision, or was the relationship between Kris and Lucky something that grew as you wrote?
It’s interesting you should mention that. I love the relationship between Kris and Lucky, and I think it’s really the strongest bond in the book. It was very intentional. I was lucky enough to have some of those strong bonds — one in particular with a gay Indian man named Sam. I based Lucky and Kris’s marriage off of the friendship I have with Sam.
There’s something to be said for having someone in your life (or several someones, as I’m lucky enough to have) who knows the darkest parts of your soul, who has seen you at your absolute worst, who wants nothing from you, and who loves you anyway. I think sometimes friendships can be much stronger than romances, and that’s what I see in Lucky and Kris.
What was the inspiration for Lucky and Nisha’s characters? Their relationship is simple and complicated, happy and tumultuous at the same time — what drove you to write those characters, and the relationship between them, in such a multifaceted way?
I wanted to capture three things with their characters. 1, the friendships that often form when young South Asian Americans grow up together because their parents are friends. 2, the heartbreak that many queer adolescents feel when they fall in love with their straight best friends (though Nisha isn’t straight, she chooses to act like it when they’re teenagers). 3, the weird, complicated, and often dysfunctional aspects of queer relationships where one person is closeted and the other is not.
I think Lucky and Nisha’s relationship is so complicated because they’ve had many many years to build it, and they’ve been many different versions of themselves with each other.
So, who would you say your literary influences are? Who are the authors that inspired you to a writing career, and whose influences do you think you put the most in Marriage of a Thousand Lies?
I would say my literary influences are two-fold. First are the authors who showed me a mirror of myself so that I could imagine myself in the literary landscape, imagine a space for stories like mine. These authors are Shyam Selvadurai, Tanuja Desai Hidier, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Tim O’Brien.
Then there are the authors whose aesthetics climbed inside my skin and played me like a string so that I was shaken to my core. These authors are James Baldwin, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, Cormac McCarthy, John Rechy, Kafka, Tolstoy, Melville, and yes, even Hemingway. As far as the sentence-level prose, I’d say Jeanette Winterson, Tim O’Brien, and Hemingway had the most influence over Lucky’s voice — and if you think about her character and who she is as a person, it makes sense.
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Rashmi Venkatesh is a pharmacologist who now works behind a desk and lives in the Metro D.C. area. Her interests include feminism, pop science, South Asian diasporic culture and media, and biryani. You can find her on Twitter at @rashmiv11.