by Shyam Selvadurai ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 1, 1996
A marvelous first novel, about growing up gay in Sri Lanka, that displays a precociously assured command of structure, pace, and tone. Selvadurai's protagonist and narrator is Arjun (""Arjie"") Chelvaratnam, the second son of a prosperous Tamil family who cast a common disapproving eye on Arjie's avoidance of other boys and their games, and on his disturbing preference for playing ""bride-bride"" with the neighborhood girls and trying on his favorite aunt's clothing and makeup. Arjie's emotional passage--through both a fractious boyhood and a culture marked by ethnic conflict and recurring violence--is charted in a series of elaborately developed extended episodes that Selvadurai handles with an almost casual mastery. Such episodes include Arjie's hilarious confrontation with a stentorian playmate and rival (whom he mockingly titles ""Her Fatness""); his fascinated observation of a young aunt's foredoomed flirtation with a young man their family can't accept; his incipient crush on a handsome young family employee; and eventually his experiences at a Dickensian boarding school (which, Arjie's father had proclaimed, ""will force you to become a man""), where he discovers both sex and the courage to defy the abuses practiced by those who wield arbitrary power (""How was it that some people got to decide what was correct or not, just or unjust?""). Selvadurai can make family squabbles resonate with almost epic force and weight, and his beautifully manipulated plot powerfully expresses the manifold connections among familial, political, and sexual identity and destiny. Arjie himself is only the most appealing of a dozen or more generously observed and vividly rendered characters. And, almost as an incidental bonus, the novel delicately, knowingly records the subtlest permutations of mistrust and contention among Sri Lanka's Sinhalese (Buddhist) and Tamil (Hindu) populace. First-rate fiction, from a brilliant new writer whose next book cannot arrive here quickly enough. The Toronto-based Selvadurai has already won the Smithbooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award for 1994.
Pub Date: March 1, 1996
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996
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