Monday, September 12, 2011

Beggar's Feast by Randy Boyagoda

Born under an unlucky horoscope in 1899 in Ceylon, a Sinhalese village boy was given to a Buddhist temple when he was 10. The monk who sexually abused the boy called him Squirrel. (This crime against children is obviously not only perpetrated by Catholic priests.)

After three years, the boy escaped the temple and gave himself a new name: Sam Kandy. He used whatever means necessary to get ahead, including murder. He made his fortune, then lost it, then got rich again, but it wasn't until old age that Sam discovered peace and redemption. Sam's life spanned a century of momentous changes in the country that became Sri Lanka.

I spent four months there in 1978 and enjoyed being transported back to that tropical island through Boyagoda's writing. His prose style includes lots of description - and some sentences run to 15 lines - but the story still moves along. Important plot points, especially violent ones, are often slyly worded. I would sometimes be as startled by the way they were revealed as by the content itself. It's not a bad thing to feel safely removed from the civil unrest and violence in the story.

Family saga readalikes also set in Sri Lanka include: Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai; Mosquito by Roma Tearne and Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.

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