Summary and book reviews of What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

What Lies Between Us

by Nayomi Munaweera

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera X
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 320 pages

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Book Summary

From Nayomi Munaweera, the award-winning author of Island of a Thousand Mirrors, comes the confession of a woman, driven by the demons of her past to commit a single and possibly unforgivable crime.

In the idyllic hill country of Sri Lanka, a young girl grows up with her loving family; but even in the midst of this paradise, terror lurks in the shadows. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother must seek safety by immigrating to America. There the girl reinvents herself as an American teenager to survive, with the help of her cousin; but even as she assimilates and thrives, the secrets and scars of her past follow her into adulthood. In this new country of freedom, everything she has built begins to crumble around her, and her hold on reality becomes more and more tenuous. When the past and the present collide, she sees only one terrible choice.

One

The walls of my cell are painted an industrial white. They must think the color is soothing. Where I come from, it connotes absence, death, and loneliness.

People write to me. Mothers, mostly; they spew venom. That's not surprising. I have done the unthinkable. I have parted the veil and crossed into that other unseen country. They hate me because I am the worst thing possible. I am the bad mother.

But here's a secret: in America there are no good mothers. They simply don't exist. Always, there are a thousand ways to fail at this singularly important job. There are failures of the body and failures of the heart. The woman who is unable to breastfeed is a failure. The woman who screams for the epidural is a failure. The woman who picks her child up late knows from the teacher's cutting glance that she is a failure. The woman who shares her bed with her baby has failed. The woman who steels herself and puts on noise-canceling earphones to erase the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. This novel provokes questions regarding the loyalty a mother has towards her child. What are the responsibilities we assume as parents and were these met in this story? How did the climax scene on the Golden Gate Bridge affect you? Was it a hard scene to read? Did you anticipate that this is where the novel was heading?
  2. Did you suspect who really was abusing the main character? What are the clues? What did you think of Samson? Do you think her mother may have suffered a similar transgression? Why did Ganga assume it was Samson all along? Why was she unable to remember the true abuser?
  3. What did you think of the narrator's visions of Bodhi at the end of the novel?
  4. What is the book saying about the restorative powers of love. Why was...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The story is beautifully written in the lyrical language of a poet, yet it captures the devastating and brutal turns that life can take. You will be unable to put this book down. Not only do I recommend it, I consider it a "must-read."   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (588 words).

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Media Reviews

Huffington Post
What Lies Between Us is a beautifully awful account of the dark legacies of childhood abuse, and a scathing indictment of the internalized misogyny masquerading as traditionalism or conservatism that holds women's mere existence as the blame for the bad things men do. It also subtly unpacks the phenomenon of economic abuse -- by which the abuser controls the abused through the control and manipulation of finances -- which keeps many women trapped in cycles of violence that often pass down to their own children.

Kirkus
The melodramatic framing device only distracts from the crystalline precision with which Munaweera renders the richness of the immigrant experience as well as her character’s singular longings, fears, joys, and demons.

Booklist
Starred Review. Writing with the same tantalizing prose that captured readers in her debut novel (Island of a Thousand Mirrors, 2014), Munaweera explores the relationship of mothers and daughters, tradition, honor, and sacrifice, with beautiful and devastating results.

Buzzfeed
Told from inside her prison cell, What Lies Between Us is a dark, gripping testament to the ways in which childhood trauma can continue to haunt us long into adulthood (The 27 Most Exciting Books Coming In 2016)

Reader Reviews

Patricia G. (Dyer, IN)

Emotional journey
I was halfway through Nayomi Munaweera's What Lies Between Us before I realized that I did not know the first person narrator's name. While this is unusual story development, what I find even more intriguing is that it didn't matter since I was ...   Read More

Mary S. (Bow, NH)

Best book I've read this year
What Lies Between Us is the story of a woman (the narrator) growing up in Ski Lanka and eventually migrating to the United States. Throughout the book, water plays an important part and the imagery is fantastic. From the little girl getting cold ...   Read More

Maureen S. (Huntington Station, NY)

What Lies Between Us
Do the secrets of the past follow us into adulthood? This is the theme so beautifully developed by Nayomi Munaweera in this stunning novel. The story reads like a memoir as we follow the thoughts and confessions of this young girl as she is forced ...   Read More

Sally H. (Geneva, OH)

What Lies Between us
This story was difficult and painful to read at times and is a reminder of the lifelong effects of child sexual abuse and particularly incest. In spite of its brutal truth and tragic ending, it was a beautiful, captivating story that kept me under ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

False Memory

One of the primary plot drivers for What Lies Between Us is the concept of false memory.

As the term implies, false memory is when a person recalls an event or a detail that has not happened or is untrue in some particular way. While research into why false memory takes root is still being conducted, a number of factors have been pegged as possible explanations. For example, if you did not attend a family Thanksgiving twenty years ago but have been told about incidents that happened during that eventful get-together over and over again, the feeling of almost having been there soon might change to your believing — and then later recalling — that you were indeed part of the day's celebrations. In other words, memories can be ...

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