Radcliffe Fellow Talks Novel, Nuances of Sri Lankan Politics

Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
Harvard Crimson
March 26, 2015
By Gabrielle M. Williams

Radcliffe Institute fellow V.V. Ganeshananthan ’02 discussed the process of writing her upcoming novel about Sri Lankan politics at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on Wednesday afternoon.

Her novel "Hippocrates," which is set in both Sri Lanka and New York from the 1970s through 2009, focuses on the recent civil war in Sri Lanka. At the Radcliffe reading, she read excerpts from her novel and then discussed the process of researching and writing about Sri Lankan politics.

Ganeshananthan, a former Crimson managing editor, said she made a conscientious effort to avoid a common pitfall in writing about politics what she described as mischaracterizing the viewpoints presented in public discourse as binaries.

“I see persistently narratives that construct politics along two party lines, binaries, and in other parts of the world, that’s often inaccurate,” Ganeshananthan said.

Ganeshananthan said she strove to find a fair balance between maintaining the accuracy of multiple political perspectives while still offering her own angle on the subject of the Sri Lankan civil war.

“I don’t think that the novel needs to pretend to objectivity,” Ganeshananthan said. “I’m not interested in neutrality. I think that would be fake.”

Ganeshananthan explained that research was integral to her writing process for "Hippocrates," since publicly accessible information on the Sri Lankan civil war is often incomplete.

“I actually don’t assume that Sri Lankans have all the information,” she said. “I know that I often don’t.”

When one audience member mentioned that works of historical fiction like "Hippocrates" are often classified as postcolonial literature, Ganeshananthan said her work should not be read solely with that kind of focus.

“I studied postcolonial literature and theory here [at Harvard College]...If that is the exclusive lens that a reader uses to look at my work, I find it really problematic,” Ganeshananthan said. “On a broader level, my work is just basically about morality… how people behave under pressure.”

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