I believe I read Selvadurai's second book first, and am now reading his first book second. Not that they need to be read in any order, but I'm wondering about his progression as an author. Also, is there a third? Because I liked Funny Boy
more than Cinnamon Gardens
. And looking it up, looks like yes, there are more of his books to explore.Funny Boy
is a series of connected short stories, centered around the character that the title refers to. Funny Boy, however, does not refer to his sense of comic timing. It refers, instead, to the feeling his family has that he may be a bit "funny" - for funny, read queer. And he is, although that realization is slower coming to the character than it apparently is to those around him.
But this tale of self-discovery and sexuality is interwoven with Sri Lankan politics, and specifically, tensions between Tamil and Sinhalese groups, tensions that can erupt into violence, and in which, the main family find themselves as members of the wrong ethnic group at a very dangerous moment. The political and the personal are interwoven here, and inability to be yourself on a personal level (and this goes beyond the main character and includes stories about his aunt and mother) are linked, sometimes intimately, to it being dangerous to be yourself on a political level.
This is yet another of the recent set of books I've read where speaking out at the wrong time about the wrong thing, or, in this case, simply being the wrong thing, can lead to sudden and horrific acts of violence. Selvadurai does a really amazing job of mingling the smaller events in the life of Arjie with the larger political atmosphere and eventual diaspora. At his young age, often the smaller events loom the larger, and perhaps they should be.
The difficulty in becoming oneself in an atmosphere that punishes such selves violently is explored through the eyes of a very young man, and because he has not the ability to understand entirely why such perceived trespasses are policed so drastically, there is little place for the reader to hide. The prose is straightforward and effective, and it is hard not to ache for Arjie.