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Sri Lanka in Cinnamon Gardens

February 28, 2010

I brought home Shyam Selvadurai’s Cinnamon Gardens from the New York Public Library this week, solely because of its title. The blurb – describing a novel about the emotional angst of upper class Sri Lankans during British Rule – didn’t seem anything special. But the title, and my new found fascination for all things Sri Lanka, convinced me.

The story turned out to be quite interesting after all. Rebellious Annulakshmi tries to find a place for herself in a society where women must play tightly circumscribed roles, while her uncle Balendran confronts a ghost from the past: an old male lover from his student days in London. In telling their stories, Shyam Selvadurai paints an incredibly nuanced picture of life in colonial Sri Lanka.

Selvadurai apparently won a Lambda award, so his work is often defined as queer fiction. But this book is so much more: it deals with the burning issues of identity and feudalism that are at the very core of Sri Lanka’s long years of conflict. His language is intimate but tantalisingly spare. It sent me scrambling to wikipedia to bolster my pitiful ignorance of the workings of Sri Lankan government and politics.

I plan to return the book to the NYPL tomorrow. So if you’re in New York, there is really no excuse for you not to read it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. ramya permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:27 am

    Lovely! Can’t wait to read it..

  2. Aastik permalink
    May 20, 2010 12:45 pm

    Oh I love Selvadurai. You have to read ‘Funny Boy’. Its semi-autobiographical, about him growing up ‘funny’ (read: gay/queer) in Sri Lanka in the midst of political upheaval.
    I guess Cinnamon Gardens will be next.

    • Avinash permalink*
      May 20, 2010 1:26 pm

      I have read Funny Boy, and it is even better. Of course, Funny Boy is very much queer fiction. Cinammon Gardens is more spread out in terms of narrative, and has several other equally important themes. Try it.

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