Kristine's Reviews > Funny Boy

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
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Jul 12, 12

Read from July 11 to 12, 2012

Set in the early 1980’s, Funny Boy tells the story of a young boy, Arjie Chelvaratnam, growing up in Sri Lanka. Arjie discovers at the early age of seven that he is not like his brother or his boy cousins. He does not like sports, he likes playing with the girls, putting on make-up, playing dress-up in a make-believe game called bride-bride where the girl cousins play out a fantasy wedding. Though his mother seems to accept Arjie for what he is, his father cannot. Arjie’s fondness for make-up and dress-up are found out by his family and his father is embarrassed, blaming his mother for Arjie being “funny”.
As we pass through the pages of the book, we move through Arjie’s life. We are introduced to the members of his family - his grandparents, his Aunts, and his parent’s friends. Arjie’s grandparents are very traditional and expect everyone to hold with the traditions with which they were raised. They are Tamil and very proud of it. It is not until midway through the book do we really learn how the Sinhalese and Tamil conflict affects the different members of Arjie’s family. It seems that for each member to truly believe their way of life is being threatened they have to be personally affected by it. Radha Aunty’s modern belief that she can marry whomever she pleases, even if it is a Sinhalese, is challenged when she faces racial brutality for being who she is. Ammachi hates the Sinhalese for the part they had in her father’s death during the riots in the 1950’s. Arjie’s mother is affected when a man from her past returns to reignite their relationship and suffers when he goes to investigate the riots occurring within the country.
Most of all, we watch Arjie grow and discover his feelings developing for a boy he meets in his new school. He is torn between the fear of being rejected by his family and his longing for Soya. He knows he is different and will never be accepted by his family. It isn’t until he meets Shehan Soya at his new school that he realizes what many people have feared. Soya recognizes this quickly after meeting Arjie. It is their special friendship that helps Arjie deal with the conflict going on around him. It is this heart-wrenching journey played over the background of the riots and civil unrest in Sri Lanka that explains how love can blossom no matter what the circumstances.
Arjie is placed in positions throughout his childhood that often required a great deal of maturity. Arjie was coerced into acting as accomplice to both Radha Aunty and his mother while they met with men; protected his sister when she was scared; and finally standing up for Shehan by defying Black Tie.
Funny Boy is truly a story of a boy and his identities. How he sees himself as a Tamil, a son, a grandson, a nephew, a brother, a lover - caught somewhere between a boy and a man. It is a coming of age story set in the backdrop of civil unrest. It does an excellent job of explaining the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict and the riots that rose out of fear by placing a family with whom it is easy to identify. The reader is exposed to both the modernity and traditional cultures of South Asia.

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Reading Progress

07/11/2012 page 216

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