REEF by Romesh Gunesekera


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 The simple pleasures of the domestic arts well done become the stuff of metaphor in this wise and poignant tale of loss, both political and personal, by Sri Lankanborn Gunesekera (short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1994). The narrator, Triton, is brought to work for Mister Salgado in 1962, ``the year of the bungled coup,'' by his uncle, who has arranged a new life for him because he is in trouble at home. The setting is Sri Lanka, a place that some think was the original Eden, and as the story begins, life is still sweet and mostly tranquil. Eager to please and learn, Triton soon becomes the perfect servant and cook for Salgado, an affluent gentleman and scholar who studies local marine life, coral reefs in particular. Triton polishes silver until ``the pieces shone like molten sun''; makes superb cakes, curries, and even roasts and stuffs a Christmas turkey, preparing ``each dish to reach the mind through every possible channel.'' When Miss Nili, Salgado's mistress, moves in, he is pleased to serve her, too. But soon the household, like the country, is beset with troubles: Miss Nili quarrels with Salgado and runs off with an American; the political unrest, once sporadic, is now pandemic; and Salgado's best friend is murdered. Unable to forget Nili, Salgado, with Triton in tow, moves to Britain, where he has been offered a job. The two men are homesick, unable to return home as ``a Reign of Terror, a suppurating ethnic war,'' rages in Sri Lanka, but Triton, recalling a visit to one of Salgado's beautiful coral reefs ``where everything was devouring its surroundings,'' decides to make the best of it, and opens a restaurant. ``It was the only way I could succeed: Without a past, without Ranjan Salgado standing by my side.'' An extraordinarily accomplished mix of the sensual and the cerebral in beautifully detailed settings by a writer of great promise.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-56584-219-7
Page count: 190pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994


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