The Ever After of Ashwin Rao tracks the emotional toll of violence

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      The Ever After of Ashwin Rao
      By Padma Viswanathan. Random House Canada, 384 pp, hardcover

      On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to Delhi was felled by a bomb over the Atlantic Ocean. Of the 329 individuals aboard, none survived, and the attack remains the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

      This tragedy frames Padma Viswanathan’s second novel, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, yet the story’s power resides in its measured treatment of sorrow and rage. The Arkansas-based author avoids cheap sensationalism and easy conclusions here and offers instead a solemn meditation on faith and mourning, possibility and consequence.

      “Grief,” she writes, “is as subject to the forces of time as every other real thing, from love to trees to stones.”

      In the summer of 2004, with the Air India trial finally under way, Ashwin Rao, a McGill-educated psychologist living in New Delhi, returns to Canada to conduct interviews with families of the victims. Like those participating in his study of comparative grief, Ashwin lost loved ones that day, and he finds himself unexpectedly drawn to the Sethuratnams, a close-knit clan whom he meets in the fictional town of Lohikarma, B.C.

      Viswanathan, who was born in Nelson, B.C., maintains her focus on the emotional costs of the bombing; ideas on home and morality occupy these pages as the narrative explores the narrow margin between care and burden, and the urgent need to set experience within some grander design.

      The Toss of a Lemon, Viswanathan’s widely acclaimed 2008 debut, was the generation-spanning chronicle of a Brahmin family in 20th-century India and demonstrated her sterling ability to create vivid characters and backdrops. Narrowing her scope now to achieve further depth, the author illuminates the skeptical Ashwin’s interior world—his pining for an old flame, his affinity for the Sethuratnams’ fretful eldest daughter—and presents the moral dilemmas facing the family patriarch, Seth, who continues to help a distant relative whose own family perished on Flight 182.

      More than a memorial to the victims and the bereaved, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao charts how people navigate their anguish, while testifying that “any single truth is itself an act of violence.”

      Padma Viswanathan will appear at Black Bond Books in Surrey’s Central City Shopping Centre at 2 p.m. this Saturday (March 29).