Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book #12: Sri Lanka

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai

Amrith’s parents died when he was six. In the eight years since then, he has lived with a friend of his mother’s in a well-off family. He’s shy, with few friends, and has not yet come to terms with his parents’ deaths and the possibility of his adoptive mother’s involvement.

Uncle Lucky, Aunty Bundle and sisters Selvi and Mala treat Amrith as part of the family, but he is always conscious that he is not. His parents’ marriage was not approved by either of their families, so Amrith’s remaining blood relatives will have nothing to do with him. That is, until Amrith’s Canadian cousin Niresh visits Sri Lanka.

The two boys immediately hit it off. Amrith shows Niresh around Colombo and we see Sri Lanka through the eyes of both a foreigner and a local. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences between cultures, and it’s great to be able to see these differences cast in sharp relief. Colombo is an interesting mix of traditional Sri Lankan influences, Dutch Berber and British colonialism. Aunty Bundle works as an interior designer for a famous architect, so Amrith is well-versed on architecture and can describe the buildings to Niresh and to us.

The facts of Amrith’s life are slowly and gently revealed over the course of the book, and Selvadurai paints a beautiful picture of Amrith’s growth and his learning of acceptance. According to Wikipedia (all hail Wikipedia lol...) Sri Lanka still has no laws allowing LGBT rights - “gross indecency” is not allowed, but this is not defined. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is set in 1980, when being gay is at best the subject of gossip and at worst illegal. Having lived a sheltered life, Amrith does not understand what the gossip is about, and becomes ever more confused as his feelings for Niresh strengthen.

The book explores both the good and bad aspects of family: love and trust, inherited traits and feuds. It looks at the effects a feud can have on a life, and how forgiveness and reconciliation can heal. And also how, sometimes, you can’t reconcile with someone and you have to go about things in other ways _evilgrin_.

Any more books set in Sri Lanka?

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