Book: Funny Boy

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Funny Boy: A Novel

Author: Shyam Selvadurai
Publisher: Harvest Books

Funny Boy is the debut of an extraordinary new voice in literary fiction. Set in Sri Lanka, it is a haunting novel about a boy growing up within an extended upper-middle-class family. Shyam Selvadurai subtly juxtaposes a boy’s passage to adolescence and maturity with the upheavals of growing ethnic tension and civil unrest.

Arjie, the protagonist, is “funny”: He likes to wear a sari and play with girls—and he hates sports. His bittersweet journey from the luminous simplicity of childhood days into the more intricately shaded world of adults—with its secrets, its ultimate capacity for violence and injustice—is beautifully rendered. And it is through Arjie’s eyes that we meet a delightful, sometimes eccentric, cast of characters. Among them: Arjie’s imposing grandmother, whose ideas of propriety are tested when one of her daughters returns from America; a young cousin, “Her Fatness,” who disturbs the natural order of things in a childhood game of bride-bride; a journalist from Jaffna whose relationship from long ago with Arjie’s mother now leads all three of them into dangerous and unfamiliar territory; Arjie’s father, distant, unmoving, whose sense of honor is tried by events not in his control; Shehan, the handsome and enigmatic boy, an outsider at school like Arjie, through whom Arjie discovers his own homosexuality and capacity for love.

Like E. M. Forster in Howards End, Selvadurai shows how the intimate workings of a family can represent and reflect a larger political context. Selvadurai’s prose is spare, vivid, gently humorous, and full of enormous compassion and insight. Funny Boy is a remarkable novel.

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