What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
We begin with a prologue about a moon bear that kills her own cub. We progress to a first-person narration by an unnamed woman, who appears to be incarcerated. She tells us her story, from girlhood in Kandy, Sri Lanka to motherhood in California. We understand that the protagonist will harm her own child in some way, and the entire novel is an exercise in understanding what led her to commit such an act.
As a child growing up in a wealthy household in Sri Lanka, she is more privileged than many others around her. She hasn’t suffered the trauma of war or hunger, these are things happening to other people in distant places. She has books and friends and birthday parties. But she also has a secret that will damage her more than she realizes.
When she moves to California as a teenager with her mother, following the death of her father, she is now the outsider. She is the outcast who wears the wrong clothes and eats the wrong food. The novel, in these middle portions, threatens to become the story of yet another brown immigrant forced to aspire to the white ideal, but recovers toward the end with less-generic events taking center stage.
Some difficult themes are explored in the story: molestation of a child by a trusted adult, the rules that govern a girl’s body and teach her to be ashamed of it, trying to fit into an alien culture, and the mythical reverence that is reserved for motherhood. The most important theme, though, is the unreliability of our memories. This is the conceit that holds up the story.
But I was not satisfied with the way the past is revealed to us. It happens over a phone conversation and the narrator’s mother speaks devastating truths almost casually. Also, the narrator remembers everything with a kind of clarity, except one important detail. This leaves us with the assumption that our mind can play tricks on us, it probably blurs certain incidents we do not wish to recall.
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