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Bodies in Motion: Stories    by Mary Anne Mohanraj order for
Bodies in Motion
by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

This is a compilation of 20 connected stories, from 1939 through 2002. Two generations of Sri Lankan families - the Vallipurams and the Kandiahs - search 'for meaning to their lives and a place to call home'. This carries them from locations in Colombo and Jaffma to the United States - Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and Vermont. They leave one location for another because of changes in family structure (marriage and/or breaking with tradition), educational advancement, the conflicts of war, and displacement.

Mohanraj begins with 'Oceans Bright and Wide' in 1939 Colombo. Sister Catherine suggests to Thani and Mala Chelliah that their daughter Shanthi be entered into a school for boys, to continue her science studies. The Sisters have exhausted their ability to teach the brilliant Shanthi, and suggest her as an excellent candidate for Oxford. Thani and Mala are reluctant to send their daughter so far away. But, Thani reasons to wife Mala, could they deny their daughter the opportunity to shine? 'Seven Cups of Water', dated 1948, tells of sixteen-year old Mangai, and her brother Sundar's new bride, seventeen-year old Sushila. Mangai is not a very attractive girl, and lives with her aloneness. After their marriage, it is only a matter of days before Sushila and Sundar will leave the village to establish a new residence. During those days, Mangai and Sushila meet secretly, realizing their attraction to each other.

In 1955 Chicago, Shanthi's story continues in 'The Princess in the Forest' (this is set against a traditional, mythical tale in which a princess walks for hours among the banyan and coconut palm). Shanthi achieved her doctorate in physics from Oxford, married University professor Aravindan, and bore six daughters. Shanthi accepts a position as a teacher in arithmetic, bitter about the years she has given to child-rearing and the loss of professional momentum. The author rounds off the collection with 'Monsoon Day', Colombo 2002, returning to Mangai's life. She's viewed as a curiosity, a strange madwoman. Brother Sundar and his wife Sushila send her gifts from America, some usable, others not. 'She fills a tin cup with cold water ... She serves herself rice, fish, leeks, potatoes, eggs ... She takes a drink from the cup, and a sharpened edge cuts the corner of her lip ... shuddering with pleasure, she eats.'

Mary Anne Mohanraj has written twenty stories, whose sensual expression deftly conveys the depth of her characters. I was disconcerted at times with the focus on sexual intimacy, and would have prefered more on the aspirations and development of the families' children, and on the advancement of women. However, each tale in Bodies in Motion reveals fears and hopes, joys and sadness, as the two families struggle for happiness and survival, amid divorce, alcoholism, civil war, and the loss of children.

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