Women against the rule of fate
Literature lovers have to remember this name: Mary Anne Mohanraj. She was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1971, and lives in Chicago. One of her books, Colombo Chicago, has just been translated into French. A good idea. Only a few Sri Lankan writers are printed in French Shyam Selvadurai and the Colombo-born Michel Ondaatje.
Let us say it before going further, Colombo Chicago is a strong and intense book. Mary Anne Mohanraj (a versatile artist; she creates collages, she is a photographer, a poet, and wrote a book of Sri Lankan cooking recipes) publishes a chronicle about love and ambition. Moreover, Colombo Chicago tells about migration and emancipation. The way of life changes within two families, the Kandiahs and the Vallipurams, in 50 years. Women fight against destinies which they find too narrow, too predictable. Mary Anne Mohanraj tells the story of Sri Lankan women who travel to Harvard and Chicago to achieve studies. Some of the women marry Westerners, other ones Sri Lankans from the diaspora, and some women travel back to homeland and accept a arranged marriage. Between 1939 the beginning of the book and our time, two families seek for love and for a place to feel at home.
But like the author, the book has more than one aspect. In chapters bearing a name of place and a date (to help the reader to find his way) Mohanraj explores the more personal paths of erotism and spirituality. The episode Seven cups of water, a night of passion between two women, was published in 2000 in an American erotic magazine. Erotic writing belongs to Mohanrajs talents. She created the erotic webzine Clean Sheets.
To summarize, Colombo Chicago is a manifesto. The word itself is not out of place: Mary Anne Mohanraj is a left-wing activist. Her favorite subjects: the clash between duty and desire, the secret, the family, the irruption of politics in private life. After all, Mohanraj was born in a country which is nowadays wounded by war. A few pages of her book tell about Sri Lankas drama without weakening the book. Sure, we will hear again from Mary Anne Mohanraj later, tomorrow.
*Mary Anne Mohanraj, Colombo Chicago, translated from American English by Adelaide Raubault, Buchet/Chastel Publishing House, 2006, 344 pages
*The Internet site http://mamohanraj.com is enriched with cultural and political links