A lyrical and evocative portrait of a Sri Lankan boyhood friendship and the life lessons that came with it.


A young boy comes of age against a backdrop of class conflict and political unrest in 1960s Sri Lanka.

Gunesekera (Noontide Toll, 2014, etc.) sets his latest in Sri Lanka in 1964—then known as Ceylon—as uncertainty looms for the fledgling democracy and ethnic Sinhalese nationalism is on the rise. In the novel’s opening pages, narrator Kairo meets Jay, two boys riding their bikes in a church parking lot in the capital city of Colombo. Charismatic Jay challenges Kairo to a race, and the dynamic of their brief boyhood friendship is established: “I needed a guide, a hero, illumination,” Kairo explains. “Jay, I now know, needed an acolyte.” The middle-class son of a disillusioned socialist father in the Labour Department and a mother who works at Radio Ceylon, Kairo drifts in a dream world of pulp Western comics until he is swept into Jay’s glamorous orbit (the Gatsby echo must be intentional). Jay’s family home is grand enough to have a name, Casa Lihiniya; his mother, Sonya, drifts about in a caftan like a film star, and his uncle Elvin maintains a fleet of cars and runs a coconut estate in the countryside. Jay himself collects fish in tanks and birds in a backyard aviary. A vivid set piece takes the boys to Elvin’s estate, where a game of Cowboys and Indians, played with the son of an estate laborer, turns ugly and Kairo has his first intimations of class privilege: “I could see how easily [Jay] could slip into his uncle’s place one day: inherit this estate and loom over the shorter lives of less favoured people.” The story winds its unhurried way to a dramatic conclusion, although a subplot involving a girl who comes between the two friends never quite comes into focus.

A lyrical and evocative portrait of a Sri Lankan boyhood friendship and the life lessons that came with it.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62097-559-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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