“Daughter Of The Monkey God” by M.K. Hobson: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Daughter of the Monkey God” is a short story by M.K. Hobson that was published on SCIFICTION on July 23, 2003.

Onto the review!

The Story: Managing Woes That Aren’t Your Own

Selvakumari is a Tamil woman who works at the Solace Factory in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she links into a psychic node called a Lump to help rich Western clients deal with the trauma of their losses–in her case, an American named James McDermott who loses his wife to a car accident.  However, Selvakumari–or “Sel”–has her own troubles, being a Tamil woman in a country dominated by the Sinhalese and having her own traumatic memory of losing her leg in an explosion.  She has only her co-worker Dhuraimurugan to confide in, yet when even the Sinhalese police cruelly take him away, Sel has to learn to manage her own pain before she more effectively do her job as a provider of solace and hope for her American customer.

The Cast: The Tamils And Their Troubles

Selvakumari and Dhuraimurugan are Tamils, which comprise the largest ethnic minority in Sri Lanka.  They have both been through some terrible events: police raids, suicide bombings, racism, and the losses they’ve taken onto themselves through their work at the Solace Factory.

Yet what separates them is how they manage their situation.  Selvakumari is quite serious and bitter, having to hobble around on a crutch her whole life, while Dhuraimurugan is quick to joke and smile in the face of adversity, although this proves futile in the long run when the police finally catch up to him during one of their raids.  Even so, the loss of Dhuraimurugan is what motivates a change of heart in Selvakumari, who can no longer hide from her own painful memories and slowly learns the compassion she needs to become a better solace worker.

The Setting: The World Seen Through Third World Eyes

Although Hobson is an author from Oregon, she does manage to capture the feeling of life in Sri Lanka, especially as part of a minority.  While I’d already known a little about Tamils in Sri Lanka, this story really illustrated just how difficult their lives have been there.  Through Sel’s eyes, terrorist bombings and police raids are just part of the routine, as shocking as they would seem to someone in the Western world.  Hobson also evokes the language of the Tamils and the Sinhalese without making it obvious.  Words like ulundu vadai and Aňda-bala flow easily with the English narration, adding an atmosphere that’s familiar to Sel but not so much for Western readers.

Final Verdict: Heart-Wrenching But True

“Daughter of the Monkey God” is not an easy tale, but it is an emotional one and necessarily so.  It pulls at the heartstrings by pointing to each of the scars felt by the Tamils in general and by Selvakumari in particular.  Yet it is the good kind of bleak story, as there is a ray of hope at the end, a view that things might get better with time, that pain can be managed and life renewed.

Bibliography: Hobson, M.K.  “Daughter of the Monkey God.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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