Wednesday, June 2, 2010
This is the perfect companion book to Half of a Yellow Sun (see Anna’s blog of May 23). In fact it was in an interview with Adichie that I first heard of it. Adichie was asked one of those questions like "Who are your favorite authors?” or “What are your favorite books?” She said that one of the books that she likes to re-read is Reef by Romesh Gunesekera. Now I know why.
The narrator Triton, now grown, is reflecting back on his life starting from the time that his uncle brought him to start service as a houseboy to Mr. Salgado (sound familiar?). This time we are in Sri Lanka and Mr. Salgado is a marine biologist (hence the book’s title…and the name Triton). After a time Mr. Salgado has his mistress move in with him - much to the delight of Triton. Triton is ever eager to please. He rises from houseboy to be in charge of the household, most importantly including duties as the cook. The descriptions of his meals and the food are so tempting and mouth-watering. His attempts at roast turkey and stuffed crab are hilarious.
But there is much more going on here. As we read on, there is a subtle shift in tone. There are undercurrents of unrest both politically in the nascent democratic Sri Lanka and domestically between Mr. Salgado and mistress Nili. Colonial, class and ethnic resentments start to play out in violence threatening their way of life.
Reef is short: only 190 small pages. In beautiful language and memorable images, it describes an island paradise and way of life that no longer exist. It is history mixed with science, hope with sorrow. I will wait for a while but I also look forward to re-reading it.