Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The Funny Boy
So, I read "The English Patient" and "The Funny Boy" in a span of two months. Two authors of similar origin - both were born in Sri Lanka, both moved to canada and live currently in Toronto - but yet, two very very different books.
The funny boy is by Shyam Selvadurai.This book is my second book in the Orbis terrarum Challenge. My second stop - Sri Lanka to view the discordance between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. I am loving this challenge.
A little about Sri Lanka before I proceed with the book - Sri lanka was known as Ceylon till 1972. It is one of India's neighboring countries but doesn't share a land border with it. It is a tiny island shaped like a little coconut hanging off the Indian mainland. It is sometimes referred to as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean". Sinhalese form the majority population, while the Tamils (who mainly occupy the northern region) are the largest minority. These two populations have been at war for quite a while and a part of this book deals with that. Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and Rupee is their official currency.
Anyways, Shyam Selvadurai is originally from Srilanka - he is of mixed tamil and sinhalese origins. And, the funny boy is a Bildungsroman (The German word Bildungsroman means "a novel of formation," that is, a novel of someone's growth from childhood to maturity. Generally, a Bildungsroman is concerned with the protagonist's development from a young person to a young adult, and the character's need to either accept or reject the morals and customs of society). I put the word in there with an intention - that word describes exactly what the book is all about. It is the most concise way of saying what I want to say about the book.
The irony of the book is that as we read about Arjie's growth and development, we cannot turn away from Sri Lanka's disintegration. The book is set against the Tamil Sinhalese violence that erupted in Sri Lanka and forced many srilankans to move to the Us, Canada, etc as refugees.
Arjie belongs to a Tamil family in Columbo. His family, however, does not support the Tamil Tigers intention of having a separate country - Eelam.
All that his parents want is peaceful co-existence with the sinhalese in sri lanka. working towards this, his dad gets into the hotel business with a sinhalese man, they live in a sinhalese neighborhood, arjie goes to the sinhalese sections in school,etc. The same emotions, however, are not echoed by the rest of the family. Arjie's grandparents live in a tamil neighborhood and are anti-sinhalese because arjie's great grandfather was killed in the tamil-sinhalese riots.
So, Arjie is brought up in Columbo sorrounded by the political unrest. And yet, that is not all. He is just beginning to understand and come to terms with his own homosexuality which is not easy considering he is brought up in a society where homosexuality is not accepted and boys with such tendencies are referred to as "the funny boys".
Even though the concept is beautiful, the author's writing comes across as amateurish. The chapters describing Arjie's self-discovery and his experiments with his sexuality are completely disjoint from the ones where Sri Lanka's political unrest is described. They just don't flow together.
But he gives a very clear picture of the turmoil in Sri Lanka. It is a one sided picture - The side of a Tamil family in Columbo, who are not Tigers supporters, but yet cannot live in peace and pulled into this whole mess for the sole reason that they are tamil - but nevertheless, it is a peep hole into the happenings in Sri Lanka. Of note, the Funny Boy is not autobiographical. Arjie and Shyam are both gay and both move from Sri Lanka to Canada during the unrest. But their similarities end there.
For me, this was a perfect way to continue with the challenge. A novel about the unrest in sri lanka, by a sri lankan author.