Book: Beach Boy

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Beach Boy

Author: Ardashir Vakil
Publisher: Scribner Book Company

In this remarkable first novel, eight-year-old Cyrus Readymoney introduces us to his magical universe of movies and mischief; tennis tournaments and truant afternoons; sex and samosas; the sea and the shore. Exploring Bombay in the early 1970s, Cyrus strays from his mostly absent parents, members of the Parsi elite, into the complex world of his neighbors, including a mysterious maharani and her seductive adopted daughter. In his travels, he experiences the splendor of Hindi films and delights in all manner of mouthwatering food.

But in the course of his wanderings, Cyrus finds himself caught between the innocence and insouciance of his youth and the responsibility and worry that await him in adulthood. When his parents’ marriage falls apart and his family is shattered, Cyrus is forced out of his carefree existence into a more severe reality.

With an acute ear for the nuances of Indian English and a comic appreciation of a boy’s life, Ardashir Vakil creates an extraordinarily vivid tableau of India while at the same time drawing a rich portrait of adolescence and its appetites. Beach Boy is, as John Updike notes, “a long ode to boyish hunger, and to the rich variety of stuffs that hold it at bay.”


“References to my mother’s not feeding me enough, sometimes overt, sometimes snide, had a currency amongst the neighbors at whose houses I often ate. I considered these insults a fee one had to pay for eating their food, for demanding their friendship, for sleeping in their beds, partaking of their quarrels, sharing their holidays, walking their dogs, making love to them, even sharing in their dreams. Generosity is often spiked.”

That’s Cyrus Readymoney speaking. He’s smart. He’s silver-tongued. He’s shameless. He’s all of 8 years old, the narrator and main attraction of Beach Boy, Ardashir Vakil’s widely praised first novel of growing up Parsi in Bombay, circa 1970.

Cyrus is the newest initiate in the club of boyish spellbinders whose members include Edwin Mullhouse, Holden Caulfield, and Paddy Clarke, those good bad boys whose uncensored conjurings remind us how titillating, entertaining, and essentially mysterious life can be before manners and received opinions settle upon it like a veneer of dust. The benign neglect of his wealthy family not only affords Cyrus endless opportunities to observe his neighbors and tag along on their adventures, but it gives Beach Boy a cast of characters as wonderfully diverse as middle-class India itself. The big, athletic Krishnan family; the Maharani and her seductive daughter; Minoo and Mehroo Readymoney, Cyrus’s cosmopolitan and self-involved progenitors; the household servant Bhagwan; brusque Aunty Zenobia; Mrs. Verma of the hundred different smiles—Ardashir Vakil evokes them all with naughty gusto. Since Cyrus is already wildly precocious and agelessly astute, calling Beach Boy a coming-of-age story in the traditional sense seems wrong. As his parents’ marital difficulties reach crisis proportions, what our young hero loses is not so much his innocence, or his illusions, as his child’s license to roam freely, an opportunist of insight and experience. By the time Cyrus suffers his first grown-up losses, we feel them, too, because he has given us so much delight, because we understand how deeply resonant his impish spirit is. —Joyce Thompson

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