Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

Shivan Rassiah is gay and of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese ancestry in Shyam Selvadurai's The Hungry Ghosts. Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka. "Ten years in jail, not just for getting caught in the act, but for actually being so inclined." It is 1983. Ethnic strife between Tamils and Sinhalese is escalating. At 18, seeing no future for himself in his native country, Shivan decides to emigrate to Canada. He and his widowed mother and sister leave behind his estranged maternal grandmother.

In Canada, however, Shivan experiences something like the insatiable hungry ghosts of Buddhist mythology, whose tiny mouths prevent nourishment. Happiness eludes him. Shivan returns to help his grandmother in Sri Lanka, but tragedy forces him to leave again. Unfortunately, living in Canada also feels unbearable.

"Rising in me was a great longing to be back in Sri Lanka and also, paradoxically, a revulsion against being there. These two irreconcilable feelings pressed tight against each other."

Like Selvadurai's earlier novels, Funny Boy, Cinnamon Gardens, and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, this book evokes rich details of daily life in Sri Lanka. Unlike the others, The Hungry Ghosts is permeated with emotional pain, giving it a more sorrowful tone. It provides thought-provoking and authentic insights into the immigrant experience.

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