Like family members around a dinner table, the tales in [Half Gods] support, contradict, and argue with one another. They create a rich disorder. But the disjointedness of the portrait they form also speaks to trauma: how it can interrupt both chronology and one’s sense of self ... [Half Gods] is both generous and parsimonious ... As a writer, Kumarasamy refuses the divine; for her, the force with quasi-supernatural powers, the thing that disrupts linear time, disintegrates the self, and troubles the borders between countries, is violence.
Kumarasamy unsettles the Sri Lankan-American concept of home, not by gesturing explicitly to the conceptual similarity between the Pandavas’ exile and the Sri Lankan refugees but by meditating on the impossibility of making the allegory stick ... Notwithstanding its allusive opacity and predictable prose, Kumarasamy’s debut moves in the right direction, provoking serious questions about the writing of human rights and the ways in which literature bears the burden of representing unsolvable political problems... Kumarasamy adds Sri Lanka to [the] literary map by rescaling the grand narrative of the Mahabharata into a captivating story cycle.
Cruel and poetic lines populate Kumarasamy’s writing, buttressing the indignities her creations are forced to suffer with some beauty. Even then, she leaves us with a sense that a larger world, full of possibility, exists somewhere out there.
Each of [the stories within Half Gods] is a fully-formed thing, ten carefully sculpted little worlds. And yet each is so deeply interlinked with its neighbors that to label this a 'collection' feels like a disservice to the wider tapestry Kumarasamy has woven... Kumarasamy is concerned with the repressed traumas and unspoken resentments that, left alone, can pry families apart piece by piece. Indeed, Half Gods gains its emotional resonance not only from its characters' nuanced internal lives, but from the cumulative effect of stacking these narratives next to each other. The result is a subtle and complex book that requires and rewards a reader's attention, one that feels less like a group of individual stories and more like a sweeping family epic in disguise.
Kumarasamy makes Nalini the heart of the book with two beautifully vivid stories ... Kumarasamy’s writing is lush and evocative, capable of wresting beauty from sadness and finding slivers of hope amidst great tragedy ... Though the stories in Half Gods are rooted in a conflict that began decades ago and on the other side of the world, many of its themes are startlingly relevant to our current situation in the U.S. ... Akil Kumarasamy has written a book for our time and our place, showing us that others have been down this road before and warning us where we might end up if we aren’t vigilant.
Wisely, Kumarasamy takes a muted approach to the violence ... Rather than describing their sense of futility, Kumarasamy folds the emotion into an image ... Most of these stories are defined by contemplation rather than plot ... It’s hard not to want a front seat to that delicious bit of drama; instead Kumarasamy bears testament to the laborers who have been left behind ... The prose itself is a marvel because of Kumarasamy’s attention to ugliness ... Such intimate gestures arrive like shafts of light throughout this lyrical and affecting collection, sparing us briefly from the dark.
Kumarasamy’s brilliant collection of interlinked short stories is a masterful combination of strong, insightful storytelling and tangential political commentary ... The themes are as ambitious in scope as the sprawling canvas .. [a] must read collection.
Kumarasamy gives us the painful fragments of these characters' experiences with care, as if she is handing us shards of broken glass. Her language is specific and precise in showing how they respond to their worlds like wounded animals whose ancient, primal fears are triggered easily beyond their own comprehension. There are some startling and fresh metaphors and similes (e.g., 'he would lift his belly like a dress.') Scenes and settings are drawn with close, attentive brushstrokes. Relevant historical facts about Sri Lanka's long, bloody civil war are woven into plots and subplots thoughtfully ... And yet, there's something about these stories that doesn't come together with the potency that, given the subject matter, one might expect ... Overall, there's an expectation for an interlinked short story collection to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Here, it almost seems as if Kumarasamy might have attempted to write a novel or a different form of fiction to begin with, and then taken the pieces from that unsuccessful effort and brought them together as a short story collection.
Kumarasamy’s prose is gorgeous and assured, capable of rendering both major tragedy (war, the dissolution of a marriage, the loss of a child) and minor tragedy (a botched effort at matchmaking, a pitying Christmas invitation) with care and precision. Though the stories can sometimes blend together, the writing is strong throughout, resulting in a wonderful, auspicious debut.
[Half Gods] is a kaleidoscopic vision of a family. While the book is moving and the writing elegant and clear, the collection begins to feel almost like a writing exercise, moving from third-person to first-person and back; when it finally comes to the rarely used second person... the effect isn’t nearly as surprising as it might otherwise have been. It might be that Kumarasamy’s control on the stories is too tight. One wonders what might happen if she were to loosen her grip. An otherwise moving collection feels overly prescribed.