In this debut memoir, a Sri Lankan man chronicles his struggles with sexual identity and a serious illness.
Rodrigo was born in a suburban neighborhood in Sri Lanka, and while his family wasn’t affluent, they were able to live in his grandmother’s sizable mansion. The author was always self-consciously aware of the ways in which he was divided from others—his dark skin and hip bone condition that plagued him all of his youth, forcing him to wear a cumbrous metal brace on his leg as he slept. But mostly, a sense of isolation issued from his burgeoning sexual identity—he liked to design clothes for dolls and dreamed of wearing women’s clothes: “I wanted to be the mom, so I could wear the sari with peacock feathers. Though Amma didn’t wear makeup, Akka had some. But I was a boy. I didn’t want people to laugh at me. The saris continued to tempt, however. I wanted to look beautiful like a mermaid.” Rodrigo found some solace in theater, enthusiastically acting in school productions of The Merchant of Venice and The Importance of Being Earnest—in the latter, he played Lady Bracknell, fulfilling a dream. But he still found it necessary in high school to play the role of the straight boy in order to avoid bullying and harassment. He won a scholarship to an American college and then eventually pursued a doctorate in English. But Rodrigo’s academic achievements were often overshadowed by his increasing physical disability, the result of multiple sclerosis. The author’s remembrance is plainly but beautifully written, the power of the prose embedded in its intrepid candor. Rodrigo’s life is one beset by adversity, but he maintains a remarkably cheerful gratitude for it nonetheless (“I constantly remind myself how small I am in the greater scheme of things, but at the same time, that I could do something even when my aging and gradually rotting body might be uncooperative….I have a good life and keep myself busy. I can still dream”). With searing poignancy, he captures both the exhilaration and pain of experiencing one’s difference, the dynamic interplay between uniqueness and alienation. In addition, while the focus of the book is personal, he provides an astute account of the ethnic and political divisions that roiled Sri Lanka.
An affecting self-portrait of perseverance in the face of misfortune.