Marriage of a Thousand Lies is an absolutely stunning book that I picked up completely by chance. It gives readers a lot to unpack in a seriously small package. The book explores topics about family, love, marriage, culture, tradition, societal expectations, and queer/gender issues.
Lucky is a first generation American whose parents hail from Sri Lanka. She is also a lesbian that is married to a gay man in order to keep up appearances for both of their families. Her stable arrangement with her husband is turned on it’s head when she reconnects with Nisha, her childhood best friend and first love.
“I’m not part of this world she’s afraid of, this community she clings to, these uncles and aunties who compare each other’s kids like pieces of fine jewelry. These people don’t belong to me.”
This book is a brutal portrayal of the clash between tradition and modernity, of the difference in cultural attitudes from South Asia to America. The book follows Lucky’s struggle to strike a balance between her inner and outer worlds, between family and herself. The story shows readers the hardships that many LGBTQIA+ youth face after coming out of the closet: harassment, losing family and friends, even homelessness. Lucky and Nisha hesitate to truly be themselves because of the fear of losing the family and culture that they were raised in, the very same culture that views them as an aberration.
The story takes things a step further by adding in the pressures of Tamil culture which is highly patriarchal and places extreme value in family honor and strict marriages within the community. This is illustrated by three other women in Lucky’s family, her mother and two sisters, who each find themselves coming into conflict with themselves on the subject of marriage and culture. All four women in Lucky’s family face different hurdles, but all four carry the burden of being wives, mothers, and daughters.
“The drums will beat louder and louder toward a frenzy as he ties the thali around her neck like a noose.”
Even though the book is relatively short it is a difficult story to digest. Even so, it is timely and a necessary story that needed to be told. It is brilliant in how it shines a spotlight on an often neglected area of discourse about LGBTQIA+ issues here in the United States, the intersection between race, culture, and sexuality. I loved this book a great deal more than I expected and I’m so glad that I read it.
Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met.
As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life? Is she willing to walk away from all that she values about her parents and community to live in a new truth? As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, Marriage of a Thousand Lies offers a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality. The result is a profoundly American debut novel shot through with humor and loss, a story of love, family, and the truths that define us all.