AUTHOR: ROMESH GUNESEKERA
PUBLICATION DATE: 28.11.19
- Ceylon is on the brink of change. But Kairo is at a loose end. School is closed, the government is in disarray, the press is under threat and the religious right are flexing their muscles. Kairo’s hard-working mother blows off steam at her cha-cha-cha classes; his Trotskyite father grumbles over the state of the nation between his secret flutters on horseraces in faraway England. All Kairo wants to do is hide in his room and flick over second-hand westerns and superhero comics, or escape on his bicycle and daydream.
Then he meets the magnetic teenage Jay, and his whole world is turned inside out.
A budding naturalist and a born rebel, Jay keeps fish and traps birds for an aviary he is building in the garden of his grand home. The adults in Jay’s life have no say in what he does or where he goes: he holds his beautiful, fragile mother in contempt, and his wealthy father seems fuelled by anger. But his Uncle Elvin, suave and worldly, is his encourager. As Jay guides him from the realm of make believe into one of hunting-guns and fast cars and introduces him to a girl – Niromi – Kairo begins to understand the price of privilege and embarks on a journey of devastating consequence.
This is the first book written by Romesh Gunesekera which I have read and I am pretty certain I will be reading more, if not all.
I enjoy books set in a different culture from my own so the blurb for this appealed to me, although coming of age novels are usually “not my thing”…but this book is very much my thing.
“One day you’re just playing in the sand, and then suddenly everything looks so different”
In 1964 Ceylon, a time of great change for the country and its people, Kairo meets Jay, an older boy who he sees a worldly, bold, all he hopes to become. He sees a way of living very different from his own, some aspects of which he is in awe, some which he finds disturbing.
Written in the first person from Kairo’s perspective, it is not full of tedious teenage angst and bewilderment but without sentimentality, Gunesekera gently and relentlessly tells the story (and what a wonderful story teller he is!) of Kairo’s transformation over six months from boy to young man; his near infatuation with Jay, the small jealousies, perceived betrayals, excitements, growing awareness all develop through utterly believable events.
The characters are very clear, very individual and while Gunesekera describes them a little, their actions and words, they way they are treated by others, tell us all and more we need to know about them. The author’s/Kairo’s style is easy to read but not simple; there is beautiful prose in places and quick fire dialogue in others. There is not one superfluous word, and every word is precisely the right word. Can you tell I rather like this chap? If literary contemporary fiction, intelligent yet relaxed writing is what you seek, then seek no further.
A recurring observation is how the past reaches far into the future. “The future feeds on the past”…something perhaps we all should bear in mind.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.