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Riff.

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3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  918 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
"Exotic," "spicy," and "delicious" are adjectives rarely applied to first novels; however, Reef had critics on both sides of the Atlantic smacking their lips. Reef is the coming-of-age story of Triton, a talented young chef so committed to pleasing his master's palate that he is oblivious to the political unrest threatening his Sri Lanka paradise. The London Times called i ...more
Paperback, 191 pages
Published May 1st 1998 by Unionsverlag (first published June 30th 1994)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jim Fonseca
Oct 06, 2013 Jim Fonseca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-authors
An engaging story of servant and master in Sri Lanka. Triton, the servant, calls his master "The Mister." He devotes his life to him, so much so that it is almost (but not) a homoerotic relationship.

The Mister does little besides exist and piddle around. He writes and throws an occasional party and then falls in love. There is not a whole lot of plot otherwise. After the failed love affair, master and servant leave for England.

We are also treated to some delightful gastroporn as the servant lo
...more
Fabian
Apr 06, 2015 Fabian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The type of novel that affects you in the gut. Seriously. All the dishes our protagonist prepares for his master seem scrumptious, the tongue salivates profusely with this much food porn! And the locale! Sri Lanka! Ever been there? Neither have I. But this book is exquisite in its crisp prose, its wholesome, universal tone. It's a story as ancient as the replenishing-and-destroying corals of the reef. I feel like I finally got back on track with this one, reading my favorite type of novel. The o ...more
Zanna
It's not what we do every day but the thoughts we live with, gentleman amateur of science Mister Salgado says. Triton, his cook and disciple, contemplates in this story not the ecosystems of the reef and shore that fascinate the man he serves, but Mister Salgado himself, his moods and needs, his relationships, and above all the food to be prepared for him. At times I felt that Triton was Mister Salgado's heart, feeling more intensely than the man he watches vicarious excitement, jubilation, mise ...more
Steve
Oct 23, 2012 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

A story set in Sri Lanka in the 1960’s and 70’s told through the eyes of Triton, an 11-year-old who has finished his schooling and gone to work as a houseboy for Mister Salgado, a successful academic and ‘intellectual’. The book opens in Sri Lanka in 1962, ‘the year of the bungled coup’ and continues through the 1960’s and 70’s as revolutionary fever builds up in the country. The reef to which Salgado is notionally and limply attached to and its impending destruction is an allegory for the impac
...more
Nilu
Aug 07, 2011 Nilu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first book I read of Romesh Gunasekara.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed every page.In some instances I could almost taste the love cake and the freshly fried patties. "Nili nona" and Mr.Salgado would've been people I knew or seen in the society pages of a Sunday Newspaper.
Colleen
Love it! The best storytellers and stories seem to come from Sri Lanka.
Caroline
This is beautiful, sensual writing. I heard Romesh Gunsekera on the BBC's World Book Club and was tremendously impressed by his unassuming wisdom and ability to share his knowledge about fine writing.

The novel skillfully adapts its tone to the protagonist's aging from about 10 to 16 or so, I would guess. The scenes shift back and forth from brutality, early on for the boy, to love, joy, delight, and violence again. There is no explanation for any of it, except the basic decency that is the foun
...more
Paul
Dec 29, 2010 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-classics
Loved this book; paradise lost destroyed by man's greed and inhumanity. But there is a love story running through it and a passion for food cooked with love and care. It begins in a tropical paradise and ends in grey and wet London; sounds the wrong way round to me!
Gerhard
Mar 18, 2017 Gerhard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel opens on the island of Ceylon. It is 1962 and in ten years' time the country's name will change to Sri Lanka. Triton is an 11-year old boy who accidentally sets fire to a thatched roof in his school compound. He is taken by his uncle to the house of the young bachelor Sanjan Salgado where he is to be employed as a lowly houseboy under the tyrannical rule of Joseph the head servant. Mr Salgado is a marine biologist with an obsessive interest in all things related to the ocean that encir ...more
Stephanie
Such a peculiar novel. The narrator, Triton, becomes Mister Salgado's houseboy when he is 11, in 1962. He describes his time in that household roughly until the civil war began in the early 80s--I think. It is often hard to know what is going on politically because Triton seems to barely leave the house. His world is so insular that he doesn't much know or care what is going on that isn't related to Mister Salgado's daily habits. This can be striking; his first visit to the ocean is described wi ...more
Shafika A. Ghani
Dec 15, 2013 Shafika A. Ghani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Firstly, when I read this book, I think of my fiction class mentor, who is this book's author, speaking to me. And it helps because I knew him as a person who sees humour and whackiness in ordinary things. Reef's strength is in its compelling yet simple language and the chemistry between the characters of Ranjan Salgodo and Triton, Ranjan and Nila, Triton and Joseph.

I thought that the part about Joseph running away from home could be developed into something more. The initial introduction of Jo
...more
Natalia Pì
I can't give this book more than three stars because of how unevenly I liked the first and the second half of the book. It's a very slow-paced story, and it mostly takes place indoors, watching the interactions between the narrator, Triton and his "master", Mr. Salgado. This is why the first part of the book feels very slow, and it is hard to tell what is happening in the world outside: the story is set in Sri Lanka, starting in the 1960s, but the events of the time are mostly only alluded to.
Wh
...more
Victoria
Jun 08, 2012 Victoria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such a simple, yet compelling and beautiful tale. It highlights man's greed and how it leads to destruction at the same time as showing how man needs to provide and nurture and learn and protect. Titan's devotion to learning about food and where it ends up taking him is incredible, I could taste the meals he put together and felt his disappointment when praise for them was not forthcoming. The house he worked in was so symbolic of all aspects of Sri Lankan life that it is almost impossib ...more
Radhika
Reef is the first novel I have read by Romesh Gunesekera, and it has been an absolute delight. Literature has always welcomed marginal characters with open arms. Several iconic authors have been known to cull their characters from the peripheries of society and place them at the centre of their literary masterpieces. Reef is one such wonder. Shortlisted for the Booker in 1994, the book, through a charming and intimate narrative, offers a buffet of visual imagery and crafty metaphors. It not only ...more
Nancy Lewis
Jan 16, 2015 Nancy Lewis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sri-lanka
Often stories are not just stories. They are the author's way of processing an event that has deeply affected them or of working out a personal philosophy. Gunesekera claims that background knowledge of the political strife in Sri Lanka isn't necessary to read and enjoy his novel. However, without some context the references to the changes in Sri Lanka and the metaphor of the reef are lost on the reader. What remains is a mostly uneventful story of a houseboy who becomes a talented cook.
Iva
Jun 08, 2013 Iva rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was reminded of Remains of the Day because of the servant/master theme. But neither the main character, Triton, who becomes, almost instantly, a wonderful chef, nor Mister Salgado, the master, really came to life. I expected to learn more about Sri Lanka's political changes, but details were skimpy. Some lovely descriptive writing on the country's fauna and flora kept me reading though the end, but ultimately, this quasi coming-of-age novel didn't seem worthy of the Booker prize nomination it ...more
Alice Ridge


I'm going to admit straight out that I didn't finish this. I usually hate leaving books halfway through as I feel like I'm giving up on it and potentially missing a great rest of a book, but this was different. I just have no interest to finish the story as I only started reading it for English literature class and I've decided I don't want to study this novel anyway. So yeah, it was ok but not interesting enough for me to want to finish.
Anna
Dec 21, 2012 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition


I really wanted to like this book - the BBC world book club is doing it soon. But I thought it just did not work. The contrast between the relatively easy life of the characters and all the terrible trouble brewing in Sri Lanka did not come across well. I had difficulty in reconciling the rather flowery language with the narrator who was so ill educated.
It was thin and undeveloped.
Christoph Fischer
"The Reef" by Romesh Gunesekera is an amazing book, understated and slow burning, set in post colonial Sri Lanka. Highly recommended.
Ccdemaio
I was getting ready to travel to Sri Lanka and thus wanted to read something by a Sri Lankan author to get a feel for the place. This book by Romesh Gunesekera painted an interesting image of life on this island before the insurgency in April 1971. The protagonist , Triton, is introduced as a somewhat troublesome boy whose family decides he needs a job and to move out. They place him as a houseboy in the home of a scholar, second to the head man. Triton is a quick study and a great observer of p ...more
Elizabeth
Oct 12, 2016 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I set this book aside after a couple of chapters, because I had to read a book club book. I didn't return it because I thought I'd want to finish it, even though it had not grabbed me. It is more about atmosphere than plot and i loved the narrator and the atmosphere he created.

From School LIbrary Journal review on Amazon: This coming-of-age story is set in Sri Lanka; one of Gunesekera's gifts is to give readers a taste of life on that strife-ridden island. It has at its core themes of defiance,
...more
Naval
Aug 16, 2013 Naval rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Triton, a Shrilankan houseboy, started working for his master at the age of 11. He was so desperate to prove himself in eyes of his master as his aptitude. His feelings and desires were not ambitious, they were to do his best and complete his assigned task with expectation of appreciation. Triton's milieu has nothing dramatic to conceive. His world revolves around his master's order.
Author narrated the story from the eyes of Triton. Story moves around Triton's daily chores from morning to evenin
...more
Jonathan Kent
Apr 24, 2014 Jonathan Kent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read Reef because I found myself sitting next to Romesh at diner one evening in Singapore. He was charming and entertaining company and I told him that I'd like to read one of his books. 'Oh, you don't have to' he said, but pressed on which I should try he suggested Reef. It was nominated for the Booker Prize and it's probably his most popular work.
It's a gem of a book. It's short. One might argue whether it's a novel or a novella, but despite it's relative brivity its scope is such that it de
...more
Sid
Oct 09, 2013 Sid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you liked The God of Small Things, you will probably like this one too. I loved it! It's a slim volume, less than 200 pages, written with such love and affection that it's almost poetry.

The book is set almost exclusively in a house in Colombo, written from the eyes of Triton, the servant boy. Absolutely nothing happens in the book. Triton comes to the house of Mr. Salgado and stays there, doing his work until one day they leave for England. Triton's life is simple. There is the house to look
...more
Nirmal
Apr 23, 2013 Nirmal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First novel of the srilankan-british author. It’s a decent read. Story of a servant boy Triton aged 10 (or 12) who is coming at his master’s house which is eventually overshadowed by arrival of Nili his mistress a sensitive , sensual creature. He keeps the master and mistress happy with his varied culinary skills. There is also a group of friends/acquaintances.

In the Backdrop is the increasing sectarian violence in Srilanka. Also there is talk of destruction of protective layers of reef. Like t
...more
Kimbofo
Jan 02, 2013 Kimbofo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Romesh Gunesekera’s Reef, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 1994, is a rather beautiful and occasionally heartbreaking coming-of-age story set in Sri Lanka before the civil war.

It’s 1962 and 11-year-old Triton, the narrator, is sent away by his father after he accidentally burns the thatch of a schoolyard hut. He goes to live with Mister Salgado, a hunch-backed, quietly spoken marine biologist who is studying coral reefs, and here, under the care of the main help, Joseph, he is t
...more
Sundeep Supertramp
I don't usually read coming-of-age books. I have perception that they are usually boring. I don't quite collect where I picked up this conception (or misconception), it was just there as long as I could remember. I came to read this book on my friend's suggestion and also because I haven't read any books by Lankan authors.

It is the story of a houseboy through his life to a manservant. The narration was very much like that of Sherlock Holmes' stories. It is as if Mister Salgado's - Triton's maste
...more
Jolene
A seemingly simple story with nothing much going on. However, I enjoyed immersing into the atmosphere of Sri Lanka in the 70s at the cusp of a revolution. Somehow, I feel that the book is a paean to a bygone era that seemed more romantic, rich and carefree. At the end of the book, we glimpse a new and scary Sri Lanka that will see the country mired in civil war for the next couple of decades. At the heart of the story is Triton a loyal kitchen hand that devotes his life into his master's househo ...more
Carolinemawer
Jan 13, 2015 Carolinemawer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great writing, great cooking, great relationship - til the end
I just didnt believe that Triton would have been taken to England. And if he had, after waxing so lyrical about food and scents (especially from Nili), and being so wide-eyed when he first visits the sea, then I feel sure he would have complained more about the cold, and how it makes you eat and eat in a desperate attempt to keep warm, (I remember this so strongly from coming to UK aged 13). And the smell and dirt of London. He'd defi
...more
Val
May 10, 2015 Val rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-extra, bookers
The author was born in Sri Lanka and most of the book is set there at a time when economic and political uncertainty are just starting to spill into unrest and later a civil war. This is all in the background and the most disturbing events take place when the protagonist is out of the country.
The story is told by a houseboy and cook to a wealthy dilettante scientist and includes lots of details of their daily lives. The master, Mr Salgado, is concerned about the state of the coral reef, the cook
...more
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Romesh Gunesekera was born in Sri Lanka where he spent his early years. Before coming to Britain he also lived in the Philippines. He now lives in London. In 2010 he was writer in residence at Somerset House.

His first novel, Reef, was published in 1994 and was short-listed as a finalist for the Booker Prize, as well as for the Guardian Fiction Prize. In the USA he was nominated for a New Voice Awa
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“I could see the meal was going to be a success even before anyone had taken a single mouthful: the mood was right, and mood, I am convinced, is the most essential ingredient for any taste to develop. Taste is not a product of the mouth; it lies entirely in the mind.” 0 likes
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