Bodies in Motion

Bodies in Motion (1972)

HarperCollins — Hardcover: July 2005, $22.95, ISBN: 0060781181.
Trade paperback: June 2006, $13.95, ISBN: 006078119X

Order it now, at Amazon!

Awards and Honors

  • Honorable Mention: 2007 Asian
    American Book Awards
    — “We would like
    to give an honorable mention to Bodies in Motion: Stories by Mary Anne
    Mohanraj (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005). Not only is Bodies
    sensual, historically ambitious, deeply felt, and provocative in its
    embrace of a wide range of love and family stories; it is also formally
    innovative. In contrast to a more traditional family chronicle in which
    the family’s tale moves forward within a linear historical narrative,
    often associated with a transnational family’s attempted assimilation into
    one or two nations, Mohanraj cuts backward and forward in time and across
    oceans to risk a new and unconventional form. In addition, it adds to
    small but growing literature by and about Sri Lankan North Americans.”
  • Illinois Arts Council: 2006 Fellowship in Prose
  • A USA Today Notable Book, July 2005


Liebessucher, Germany, Rowohlt and Kindler, December 2005
Corpos em Movimento, Brazil, Rocco Publishing, April 2006
Colombo Chicago, France, Buchet Chastel, May 2006 — more info
Las Voces del Monzon, Spain, Grijalbo Mondadori, 2006
Il Sapore del Curry, Italy, Piemme Publishing, 2006
Tela u pokretu, Serbia, February 2007 bodies.serb bodies.sp corpos german.bim voces


July 26, 2005, 848 (WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, 91.5FM), interview by Lakshmi Rengarajan — website archive

August 11, 2005, a twelve-minute excerpt from “Monsoon Day” and about fifteen minutes of excerpted interview, from the reading at A Clean
Well-Lighted Place for Books, on Writer’s Voice Radio

“Pieces of the Heart”, on Fishnet


Bodies in Motion is a graceful, nimble book. With great care and affection, Mohanraj finds both beauty and lamentations in the
disquieting, but revelatory, clash between custom and assimilation, between everything that came before and all that lies ahead.” — excerpted from a long review in the Boston Globe, by Renee Graham

“Perhaps the biggest detriment to Mary Anne Mohanraj’s recent collection
of short stories, Bodies in Motion, is the intricate genealogy chart right up front. It gives the impression that what follows will be dry, labored, and difficult to follow. In fact, what follows is exactly the opposite.
These twenty stories grouped into sections with a beginning, interlude, and epilogue are a fascinating and carefully crafted panoramic look at two generations of two Sri Lankan families. Written over a period of ten years, Mohanraj has managed to craft stories that are meticulous in
emotional detail, replete with all the nuances and distinctive essence of
Sri Lankan culture, the immigrant mentality, and the fate of those caught
in between. Particularly salient, and so rarely portrayed in current South Asian literature, is the focus on the life of the body, the sexual nature and proclivities of individuals who are more than the sum of the land from which they came.

“So many of the stories are tinged with a sadness, with the expectations of life being dashed in often cruel and banal ways, such as the subtle and almost undetectable indiscretion a father has toward his daughter, a man in a “sham” marriage who desires other men, a young bride who takes comfort on her honeymoon night in the arms of her sister-in-law, and a married woman who wonders, more than once, if her aging body might still have the power to tempt. Surprisingly, too, the stories contain much
resiliency and resignation to the human condition. Families are torn asunder, separated, alienated from one another, and more than occasionally function at cross purposes, but what triumphs is, with warts and all, the desire for an authentic life, no matter on which side of the world the characters find themselves.

“While almost all the stories are of a sexual nature, they are less about sex than what people strive to experience: a connection to themselves and authenticity of experience. Mohanraj breaks the stereotype of the chaste and sexless Sri Lankan female, the preprogrammed South Asian male, and creates a view of human nature that is truly honest and engaging.” — Michelle Reale, for World Literature Today, July 2006

“The characters travel from Sri Lanka to England and to America, and sometimes back to Sri Lanka, and regardless of the direction of their journeys, find adjustment to a new land to be fraught with unforeseen complications. But movement is also implicit in every other facet of their lives. These men and women are pushed and pulled by ambition, by loyalty, and by sexual desire; they lead agitated lives, moving in and out of jobs, relationships, and even states of being. Mohanraj provides finely-calibrated accounts of the clash between convention and passion; that many of her pieces are rich in the details of Sri Lankan cuisine is a decided bonus.

Keeping track of the relationships amongst the numerous characters was sometimes difficult; I was forced to flip to the family trees (provided in the preface) several times over. Each story, however, stands distinct, and Mohanraj gives us glimpses of the same event through convincingly different perspectives — a literary sleight-of-hand I’ve always enjoyed. The prose is also noteworthy. Liquid and lush, Mohanraj’s writing is the kind which makes you realize, when you close the covers of the book, that the reading lamp should have been switched on an hour ago….” —excerpted from The Asian Review of Books, Niranjana Iyer, July 2006

The Short Review, Stefani Nellen, June 2008

“Mohanraj’s promising but uneven debut collection chronicles the lives of
two linked Sri Lankan families over the course of 50 years. From politically ravaged Sri Lanka to quiet suburban America, characters buck against the tradition of arranged marriage, desiring more than their assigned societal roles. In “Oceans Bright and Wide,” a couple in 1939
Colombo, Sri Lanka, reluctantly send their daughter to Oxford University to study physics rather than immediately marrying her off. An embittered father lamenting his Americanized children surprises his youngest daughter with an arranged engagement on her seventeenth birthday in “A Gentle Man.” In “Tightness in the Chest,” a young American-Sri Lankan woman settles down with a Tamil husband, but resists her role as wife and future mother, while he yearns for her affection. Mohanraj’s writing is vibrant, but she occasionally retreads familiar territory of the immigrant experience (i.e., the struggle of losing one’s language and the pressure to achieve in America). Also, the gems of the collection are offset by undeveloped, rushed stories — in “Seven Cups of Water,” a lesbian affair occurs
abruptly and without context. Still, Mohanraj evokes a moving portrait of
families searching for love and a place to call home.” — Publisher’s Weekly

NY Times Fiction Chronicle Review, by Ada Calhoun

“Twenty stories span most of the 20th century and several Sri Lankan families, emphasizing the pangs of exile and the wrench of breaking with tradition….Intricately interwoven stories featuring sensual language and
surprising sexual twists.” — from Kirkus Review

“Sensuality is undeniably important in these twenty consummately elegant,
inspired stories, but this is more than frothy erotica. Not only does motion of several types and scales shape the lives of people in this collection, but its opposite — restriction and silence — proves to be a
powerful influence as well….Mohanraj’s writing style is spare and piercing, and she exercises a sophisticated economy of language. Indeed, words left unspoken are not only a technique of Mohanraj’s but a defining characteristic of the lives of her characters as well….It thus becomes
noteworthy that a collection containing so many figuratively paralyzed individuals is titled “Bodies in Motion.” Much of this collection is about juxtapositions: characters finding ways of movement in situations that seem hopelessly static. People must compromise, finding pockets of richness amid deprivation of truth, sex, love and self-expression….In spite of disappointments and foiled expectations, Mohanraj’s characters persevere; even when language fails, their bodies remain in motion.” — from the San Francisco Chronicle, by Kim Hedges

“Beautifully written collection of short stories…. Bodies in Motion is as sensuously fulfilling as the romantic escapades and rich curries in which Mohanraj’s angst-ridden characters indulge.” — from a long review in The Orlando Sentinel, by Michelle Keller

Picked as one of the summer book recommendations on NPR’s Day to Day with Karen Grigsby Bates, who had some really nice things to say about Bodies in Motion including, “This was beautifully written, very nicely done.”

“Mohanraj, born in Sri Lanka and educated in the U.S., portrays two Sri Lankan families woven together for several generations by bonds of friendship, marriage, and unsanctioned love affairs. Some emigrate to America or England to complete their education at Oxford, Harvard, or the University of Chicago, the setting of several stories. A
few marry whites, some marry other Sri Lankan immigrants, and some return
home for traditional arranged marriages, returning to the U.S. to raise their families. Mohanraj perceptively limns her characters with a delicate brush, bringing them slowly to life until the reader knows them well….–all come alive in these thoughtful stories of the clash of tradition and modernity, and the search for love in all its various guises.” — from Booklist

“Dwelling on the thorny inner lives of the characters rather than their predictable conflicts with one other, these stories transcend time and place.” — excerpted from a review in Time Out New York, by Reena Jana

“The compact book is a whirlwind of emotion and personal adventure, with
much insights that might slip by on first reading. The disparate worlds and cultures seem too close, often enough blending into one another. The political milieu of the characters is like a brooding presence, especially in the later stories, coming to the fore only in a couple. This is good,
else we might be treated to a harrowing series of tales about the minutiae of oppression. The collection is a portent of good things to come from a promising author.” — excerpted from a long Blogcritics review, by Aaman Lamba

“Mohanraj, who was born in Sri Lanka but has spent most of her life in the U.S., completed her graduate work at the University of Utah. The linked stories in Bodies in Motion flow through generations and continents, from Sri Lanka to America and back again, and every character Mohanraj depicts could easily command rapt attention through an entire novel. Each story is a tiny snapshot into an enormous choice, whether it’s upholding gender roles and arranged marriages, or risking family and reputation to follow one’s heart. Some themes remain constant — no matter generation, gender, or birthplace, everyone quests for love, a sense of completion, and home. Not surprisingly for a writer of erotic fiction, Mohanraj has crafted a poignant, luminous, and sensual family chronicle.” —Inkslinger Newsletter, King’s English Bookstore, SLC, UT

“In her first book, Mohanraj, born in Sri Lanka but a longtime U.S. resident, presents a series of interconnected short stories covering four generations of two families throughout five decades. The collection begins with “Ocean Bright and Wide,” set in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1939.
When Thani goes to talk with the Irish nun who is supervising his daughters’ education, the nun tries to convince him to send his youngest, Shanthi, for further education, with Oxford as a goal, to show the world “what astonishing heights your people are capable of.” As Thani interjects, it is as if Shanthi were “a trained monkey, a performing dog.” That encounter sets the tone for the other tales of trying to maintain a cultural heritage, of running from it to mainstream European/America
culture, and of moving back and forth between the two. Always, the stories are about sex and food — the dominant forces that identify a character with one culture or another. Some are brutal, while others are more touching. The book isn’t a continuous tale of these families but offers glimpses of different members often greatly separated in time and space. Mohanraj offers readers great insights into her characters and has left plenty of material to be mined in further works. Recommended, especially for South Asian academic collections.” — Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Lib., for Library Journal

“On a rare occasion, a novel comes along that breaks rules, tears down barriers, and is a joy to read. Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj is such a novel….Chronological and selective, the stories move forward but touch previous references, solidifying relationships and events. As time passes, Mohanraj provides only the details necessary to string the
genealogy together. This renders each story fresh and individual yet
integral to the whole. Interestingly, the characters come alive through their thoughts and emotions in a way that dialogue could never afford. Based more upon introspection than dialogue, the stories allow the characters and their situations to develop deeply and intensely. There is no clear-cut plot, but the scope of the families and the life decisions they make captures and sustains the reader’s interest….” — excerpted from a long interview/review in India Currents, by Jeanne E. Fredriksen

“Mohanraj’s skill in expressing her characters’ struggles is significant
and apparent in their diverse reactions. Not only does she offer the images of young women caught between the security of the well-defined tradition of arranged marriage and the sometimes-frightening freedom of personal choice, she also presents the dilemma faced by the fathers of these women. Is it better to secure the future of their daughters or to allow them to determine their own destinies?” — from a longer review in This Week, by Christy Zempter

“Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj (HarperCollins, $22.96) is a collection of short stories scented with curry and bougainvillea and set in the two worlds of Sri Lanka and immigrant America. The interrelated but stand-alone stories cover two generations of two families in motion on different levels and with different agendas. “When you run, really run,”
says one of Mohanraj’s bodies in motion, “you have to learn to breathe properly.” Anne Tyler used the title Breathing Lessons some time back, but if she hadn’t, it could serve well as the alternate title of this short-story collection.” — from the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee), by Ina Hughs


Bodies in Motion, Mary Anne Mohanraj’s debut book, is less a collection of stories than a series of snapshots, a highly colored album of two Sri Lankan families in America. Read separately, the stories are a scattering of random images, raising more questions than they answer. Taken together, glossing and expanding on each other, they create a vivid portrait of families in flux, wandering back and forth over borders both geographic and cultural.

“There’s a little of everything here: arranged marriage and infidelity,
political violence and parenting, homosexuality and miscegenation,
depression and redemption. There are constants too: the struggle for personal identity, the search for love and security, and a heightened awareness of sensuality in the everyday….

“In these linked stories, Mohanraj moves characters in and out of focus, filtering them through multiple perspectives. She especially contrasts public and private personae, a contrast thrown into higher relief by the expectations of a younger generation of American-born children….

“Yet the vividness of Mohanraj’s characters and their cameo reappearances in different decades and contexts make “Bodies in Motion” paradoxically unsatisfying. The stories become isolated, tantalizing scenes from a saga of immigration rather than independent narratives. The need to fit each one into the larger picture (which entails a fair amount of flipping back and forth to the genealogies in the book’s preface) gets in the way of appreciating them individually — and raises the question of what Mohanraj could achieve at novel length. Let’s hope she gives us the chance to find out.” — the Los Angeles Times, by Janice P. Nimura

“A deftly intricate interweaving of voices and generations. These stories are gorgeous, sexy, often sad, but never simply so. They are, above all, stories of survival and Mohanraj tells them beautifully. A writer to watch!” — Karen Joy Fowler, author of the New York Times-bestselling TheJane Austen Book Club


SF Gate, by Sandip Roy, “Sexing Sri Lanka: How a Tamil immigrant girl
grew up to become an erotica queen and new voice in South Asian

AsianWeek, by Terry Hong, “From X to PG-13 – ‘Sexuality Activist’ Mohanraj Goes

Bookslut, by Sumita M. Sheth, “An Interview with Mary Anne Mohanraj”, and another version at EGO Magazine


Mary Anne Mohanraj: Desi Queen of Diaspora Erotica

Table of Contents

note: Five of the stories included have been previously published in
anthologies or magazines, and are linked below, but if you haven’t read
them yet, I strongly recommend reading the entire collection in sequence,
in order to better follow the overarching story. — M


Oceans Bright and Wide (Colombo, 1939)
Seven Cups of Water (Jaffna, 1948)
Sister Mary (Colombo, 1949)

The Kandiahs

The Princess in the Forest (Chicago, 1955)
Other Cities (Chicago, 1962)
Acts of Faith (Chicago, 1963)
Marry in Haste (Chicago, 1964)
Pieces of the Heart (Chicago, 1966) (audio link)
Lakshmi’s Diary (Chicago, 1969)


Sins of the Father (Jaffna, 1977)

The Vallipurams
A Gentle Man (Massachusetts, 1979)
The Emigrant (Colombo, 1979)
Mangoes with Chili (San Francisco, 1983)
Tightness in the Chest (Vermont, 1986)
The Children
Mint in Your Throat (San Francisco, 1990)

Challah (Philadephia, 1998)
Bodies in Motion (Chicago, 1999)
Minal in Winter (Chicago, 1999)
Wood and Flesh (Berkeley, 1999)


Monsoon Day (Colombo, 2002)

Tour Schedule


  • July 8-10 – Los Angeles, Artwallah
  • July 11 – Chicago, TwilightTales, 7:30 p.m.
  • July 23 – Chicago, Hothouse Launch Party, 2-5 p.m. ($5-$10 suggested donation), samosas and entertainment will be provided
  • July 26 (my birthday) – Chicago, 57th St. Books, 7 p.m.
  • July 28 – Chicago, Women & Children First, 7:30 p.m.
  • August 3 – Milwaukee, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, 7 p.m.
  • August 11 – San Francisco, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, 7 p.m. (will be recorded for NPR, for their weekly show Writer’s Voice Radio)
  • August 16 – New York, Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82nd St., 7:30 p.m.
  • August 17 – New York, KGB Reading Series, reading with John Crowley, 7 p.m.
  • August 25 – Iowa City, Prairie Lights Bookstore, 7 p.m., will be broadcast live for NPR
  • September 9 – New York, The Listening Room @ Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. (off Bleecker St. near Seventh Ave.), 7:30 p.m., suggested donation $5. Performance will be a collaboration with dancer Marian Thambynayagam and cellist Varuni Tiruchelvam of Mango Tribe.
  • September 24 – Salt Lake City, King’s English Bookstore, 1511 South 1500 East, 7 p.m.
  • October 11 – Chicago, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave., Rm. 244, 5 p.m.
  • October 12 – Chicago, Mars Gallery, 1139 W. Fulton Market, 8 p.m.
    Cardamom Chicago – a social and intellectual forum for issues pertinent to the South Asian community. It is equal parts social gathering and bookish reflection. Cardamom presents: “Writing About Women, Sex and Sri Lanka: A Conversation with Author Mary Anne Mohanraj.” For event and ticket information contact:
  • October 15 – Madison, Wisconsin Book Festival, 3-5 p.m. (joint reading with Cris Radish)
  • November 16, Chicago, Bookcellar Local Author Night, 7 p.m.


  • March 3-5, Ann Arbor, SAAN Conference
  • March 17, Ft. Lauderdale, ICFA, “SF Criticism Outside the Academy” March 30, Chicago, “What’s Wrong with Asian American Literature?”, 11th Annual Chicago Asian American Showcase 2006
  • July 6, Berkeley, Other Change of Hobbit, 2 p.m.

    Order it now, at!