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The Hungry Ghosts Hardcover – 1 Dec 2012
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'A ravishing portrait not just of one man but of an entire country's search for a resting place' Tash Aw 'An unsettling and moving account of a family - and a nation - at war with their own selves' Tan Twan Eng 'Unflinchingly insightful, Shyam Selvadurai's new novel evokes the clashing manifestations of human desire and longing in two continents.' Pankaj Mishra 'A tender and haunting meditation on the long reach of the past' Michelle de Kretser 'Powerful and beautifully written - an incredibly courageous book' Razia Iqbal, BBC News 'Selvadurai is a masterly writer, with a gift for marrying the personal with the political and cultural' India Today 'Rendered in visceral detail, locale plays a significant role here: Colombo, Toronto, and Vancouver each possess their own unique temperament ... The Hungry Ghosts is lustrous in its depictions of duty, dislocation, and the ways love and relationships haunt the human heart.' Georgia Straight 'A novel of raw human longing ... his stripped-down prose focuses on the deeply personal with precision and insight ... Selvadurai's work reminds me that the contemporary novel doesn't necessarily have to resort to thrills or high jinks in order to find its usefulness. Here, it unforgettably explores the interplay between individual intention and the tragedy of a nation's history.' The Globe and Mail 'This young romance, like something out of an Edmund White novel, is beautifully and powerfully imagined ... Calling to mind the work of Indo-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri, Selvadurai does an excellent job contrasting Sri Lanka and Canada.' Winnipeg Free Press 'Both Shivan's story and Sri Lanka's rich history are told through simple yet evocative prose, and Selvadurai's first-person narrative, with its modernized Dickensian tone, is an effective storytelling device ... The Hungry Ghosts is an accomplished, resonant novel.' Quill & Quire --Quill & Quire
About the Author
Shyam Selvadurai was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Funny Boy, his first novel, was published to acclaim in 1994 and won the W.H. Smith Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Lambda Literary Award in the United States. He is the author of Cinnamon Gardens and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea and the editor of an anthology, Story-wallah! A Celebration of South Asian Fiction. His books have been published in the United States, the United Kingdom and India and published in translation in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey and Israel. www.shyamselvadurai.com
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Selvadurai writes about love and longing and of people caught between the ethnic and political tensions in Sri Lanka … while Guesekera’s novels are peopled with Sinhalas, Selvadurai’s novels have more Tamils coming in … Selvadurai has a decidedly gay angle in his novels, but what I found most fascinating was a very high degree of empathy and understanding gay relationships evoked in other people in Selvadurai’s novels … not just tolerance, which is restrictive in many ways …
Selvadurai’s The Hungry Ghosts moves between Canada and Sri Lanka and it has certain autobiographical elements … you have the parallels in the novel and Selvadurai’s life … boy of mixed Tamil-Sinhala parentage, the move to Canada during the early years of the conflict, coming to terms with his gayness … and then there is the maternal grandmother, a Sinhala, who wants to ‘make’ her half-Tamil grandson into a proper ‘Sinhala’ and her attempts in this direction, her conflicts with her daughter, the life of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants in Canada, love and loss, and death … and coming to grips with all this is Shivan Rassaiah as he searches for redemption … Selvadurai evocatively brings out the contrasts, colours, life, sights, smells, of life in Sri Lanka and Canada … it took some time for me to finish The Hungry Ghosts, but it was worth it at the end …
(Excerpted from my blogpost http://www.jaisiri.blogspot.in/2014/10/two-sri-lankan-writers-and-their-recent.html )
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I strongly recommend this book.
Amidst the turmoil of a divided Sri Lanka where the tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese people are a vivid and violent backdrop to the tensions between Shivan's estranged grandmother and mother and the sides he is forced to choose from in order for his family to survive--Shivan also grows, discovers, and explores his own sexuality as a gay man and battles against the intolerance of his homosexuality by his Sri Lankan culture and community.
Between his grandmother's controlling dominance and astute ambition for power and money; his mother's depression and devastation at the failure of a western country, Canada, whose expectations she held towards were far too high in estimation compared to her real immigrant experience; and his sister's radical extremism in feminist theory and racial equality--Shivan is often a victim of emotional liminality and displacement, marginalized in his culture and experience not only by being both Tamil and Sinhalese, but more importantly a Sri Lankan-born boy who immigrates to Toronto, Canada as a refugee and eventually becomes a westernized Torontonian and later, a Vancouver resident, open and active in the LGBT community.
The richness in this novel is found in the author's ability to write with an eloquence and ease that give his characters resounding depth, authenticity, and a vulnerability, which readers can eagerly connect to and appreciate.
And the emotional landscape of the novel's characters are not static, nor linear, but like life, mimic the fluctuation of people who change their minds over time and over a number of experiences.
The cultural translations of Buddhists stories also enrich the novel in metaphor and Sri Lankan culture, as well as intensify the substance of the novel's characters.
But, the novel is not just entirely character-driven. The plot, too, is rich as it is turbulent and engaging. The capacity in which characters can love is just as passionate as their ability to hate and condemn, which drive them to illogical and unthinkable acts of cruelty.
The plot, filled with the torment of conflict and anguish, create an emotionally charged and gripping tale that will move readers to empathy and reflection about the importance of resisting exclusivity, answering the issues of cultural displacement, and advocating racial and gender equality, while defining the ideas of love and home.
Overall, "The Hungry Ghosts" by Shyam Selvadurai is a beautifully written book, full of substance and dichotomy, tenderness and heartache, tension and cruelty--a book that is so gloriously good, I couldn't put it down--and still mourn the loss I feel in turning its very last pages.
A book like this is one is one in which you befriend its fictional characters in your reading and then miss them severely, feeling a loss at having to accept that though the story does not end, the book itself, has to. The Hungry Ghosts by this gifted and mature writer will inevitably leave its readers hungering for more.
- Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez from The Bibliotaphe Closet