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Funny Boy

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In the world of his large family, affluent Tamils living in Colombo, Arjie is an oddity, a 'funny boy' who prefers dressing as a girl to playing cricket with his brother. In FUNNY BOY we follow the life of the family through Arjie's eyes, as he comes to terms both with his own homo-sexuality and with the racism of the society in which he lives. In the north of Sri Lanka there is a war going on between the army and the Tamil Tigers, and gradually it begins to encroach on the family's comfortable life. Sporadic acts of violence flare into full scale riots and lead, ultimately, to tragedy. Written in clear, simple prose, Syam Selvadurai's first novel is masterly in its mingling of the personal and political.

330 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 1994

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About the author

Shyam Selvadurai

12 books357 followers
Shyam Selvadurai is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist who wrote Funny Boy (1994), which won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and Cinnamon Gardens (1998). He currently lives in Toronto with his partner Andrew Champion.

Selvadurai was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka to a Sinhalese mother and a Tamil father--members of conflicting ethnic groups whose troubles form a major theme in his work. Ethnic riots in 1983 drove the family to emigrate to Canada when Selvadurai was nineteen. He studied creative and professional writing as part of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at York University.

Selvadurai recounted an account of the discomfort he and his partner experienced during a period spent in Sri Lanka in 1997 in his essay "Coming Out" in Time Asia's special issue on the Asian diaspora in 2003.

In 2004, Selvadurai edited a collection of short stories: Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers, which includes works by Salman Rushdie, Monica Ali, and Hanif Kureishi, among others. He published a young adult novel, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, in 2005. Swimming won the Lambda Literary Award in the Children's and Youth Literature category in 2006. He was a contributor to TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 1.

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5 stars
2,169 (31%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 642 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,100 reviews44.1k followers
August 7, 2017
This is a book about a gay Sri Lankan boy. He falls in love and realises his sexuality.

I wonder how many people stopped reading my review after that first line. I can’t judge, this is a book I would never have picked up and read by my own choice. It’s was on one of my university modules, so there was no escaping it for me. Surprisingly, I actually quite enjoyed reading it as I have done with all postcolonial texts I’ve come across.

Gender is socially constructed and socially enforced; it’s also socially repressed. This is nothing new. It is a facet of human existence. Men and women have always been associated with gender specific behaviour according to their culture. A person who crosses these boundaries is often considered strange, a social outcast and “funny” in the sense of weirdness and bizarreness. It’s not so bad in today’s world, but this book is set in the seventies. And as a young boy growing up in a divided Sri Lanka, Arjie wants nothing more than to be a girl.

He was young and confused. Obviously, transgender issues are separate from sexuality. But one thing Arjie does realise is that he is very different to other boys. It takes him many years to actually realise what this difference is, and even longer to accept it. It doesn’t reside with his gender, but his sexual orientation. Arjie is gay in a world that considers such an act weak, unmanly and, again, “funny.” When he was young he found kinship with girls because he was confused when playing with other boys. He felt comfortable, safe even, with the girls. As he grows up he realises the restrictions on such a lifestyle. I can sympathise with him here, I think we all can to some degree: it takes a lot of courage to realise who you are, and even more to face it and become it. Arjie doesn’t come out to his family, thought they have suspicions. I’d like to believe that in the future this character would. At the end of the novel he and his family are forced to flee to the western world, which was more accepting, so I presume that would lead to his eventual admittance.

As well as showing the conflict between homosexuality and social acceptance, the novel also portrays the tumultuous time in a divided Sri Lanka. Colonial power has withdrawn, leaving a massive power vacuum that rival factions fight for. It’s suggestive of the divided nature of Arjie’s own mind. However, for all the interesting themes and literary merit, I could not rate this any higher. And that’s because of the way it concluded the romance plot. It was drastically underplayed; there was barely as much as a good bye.

The love story in here didn’t feel transitory: it felt like it should have lasted a life time; it was true love. The characters knew it too, but they just didn’t fight for it. They let it die. Personally, I think this would have been a much more powerful novel, dramatic too, if they tried to fight for it and it ended in tragedy. It would have been so much more impactful than a mutual, safe, withdrawal of feelings. I feel like I wasted my time with such levels of character investment for it all to conclude in one cold, detached, paragraph. Other than that though, the novel was an interesting read.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,073 reviews6,806 followers
January 18, 2021
As you might guess from the title, this is a story of a young boy discovering his homosexuality. The setting is Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) during the 1980’s or so, so the second major theme is politics: the horrible violence between two ethnic groups: the Tamils and the Sinhalese. The young boy’s family is Tamil and they are in the minority. We don’t get any real overview of the nation’s geography and history in the book (it’s semi-autobiographical fiction), but as a former geography professor I can’t resist giving a brief ‘in a nutshell’ overview at the end of this review for those who are interested.


The semi-autobiographical story: on the weekends all the relatives gather at the grandparents’ house where the young boy shuns (and is shunned by) the other boys playing cricket. He plays ‘bride-bride’ dress-up with his girl cousins. His favorite books are Nancy Drew and Little Women. Eventually his father sends him to a school that will ‘make a man of him.’ It’s an abusive place where the boys suffer punishments akin to torture. We watch the boy as he comes of age and has his first gay experiences.

The byzantine intricacies of being Tamil in a Sinhalese-dominated country are the backdrop to almost everything that happens in the story. The schools separate Tamils and Sinhalese students by class but exceptional students may be allowed into the other ethnic group’s classes. Potential violence and actual violence are always on the horizon. The next anti-Tamil pogrom may happen at any time.


The boy’s family is well-off with cars and servants. His father is a banker who also owns a resort hotel with Sinhalese staff. He can’t correct Sinhalese people, so he has to run the hotel through a Sinhalese manager. There is an extended sub-plot involving the boy’s mother and a male friend of hers who is a journalist writing stories that upset the government. There’s another extended subplot involving an aunt visiting from the US who starts to fall in love with a local Sinhalese man.

A good story that was a bit slow getting started. The bride-bride stuff and the visiting aunt’s doings at the beginning of the book seemed dragged out to me, but after that the book moved along well and kept my interest.

The author (b. 1965) has written four novels and many short stories. Funny Boy was made into a film in 2020. The author’s mother was Sinhalese and his father was Tamil. They family emigrated to Canada when the author was 19 years old.


Here’s my nutshell description that is not given in the book: Sri Lanka, unfortunately, has the perfect conditions for ethnic violence: groups with different geographical distributions, different languages, different religions and skin tones. The population is about 22 million in an area the size of West Virginia. Or: Sri Lanka is half the size of Ohio with double Ohio’s population.

The country has three major ethnic groups (often erroneously referred to as ‘races’). The Sinhalese group dominates with 75% of the people. Their language and English are the two official languages. They speak Sinhalese and are generally Buddhists. The Tamils, who speak Tamil, make up about 15% of the population and they are generally Hindus. Both groups think the other groups is ‘darker skinned’ but the reality is that skin tones in both groups vary from light brown to dark brown and that varies for both groups by region of the country.

And both groups have lighter-skinned minorities called ‘burghers,’ who have some European ancestry (Dutch, Portuguese, British) and tend to be Christian. (LOL a common name in this group includes apparent relatives of mine called ‘Fonseka.’) A third ethnic group, 9% or so, is Moslem, still commonly called ‘Moors,’ a name given them by the Portuguese, even though they were unrelated to the Moors of the Iberian peninsula. They generally speak Tamil but still use Arabic for religious purposes. They predominate in some of the eastern coastal sections of the county.


Although Tamils are a minority, they are the majority of the population, very roughly, in the northern third or so of the nation. Sri Lanka became independent from Britain in 1948. Anti-Tamil pogroms occurred in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1981. Some were state-sponsored terrorism. (In the novel, these events mark the calendar: people say ‘right after the 1977 riots,’ etc.) Another pogrom in 1983 essentially started a civil war that raged until 2009. The Tamil Tigers fought to break their section of the country away from Sinhalese domination. As many as 100,000 people on both sides were killed. Many escaped the violence by emigrating to other countries, especially Canada and Australia. The author and his family fled to Canada, as did author Michael Ondaatje, and the folks in the novel Milltown, a great book by GR author Shane Joseph.

The capital and largest city, Colombo, is near the middle of the west coast of the nation. It’s metropolitan area has more than 5 million people, about a quarter of the nation’s population. It’s ethnic mix is about one-third of each of the three major groups. History will tell us if that combination allows the city to show the rest of the nation “why can’t we all get along?” or if it becomes a powder keg for future violence.

Top photo: a peaceful Sri Lanka landscape from vervemagazine.in
A neighborhood burned in the violence from opiniojuris.org
The author from theglobeandmail.com
Map from mapsontheweb.com
126 reviews95 followers
February 23, 2018
Funny Boy is a moving account of a young boy coming to terms with his being 'funny'– slowly recognizing that he is different- that he loves men, that he is gay. Even though the story is set in Sri Lanka, the funny boy's experiences resonate with any young gay boy who grew up elsewhere in the Indian Subcontinent. Of course, there are moments in this boy's story that most gay men will recognize as there own, no matter where they come from.

I give this book such a high rating because it is a well-written book, and at the same time it is a courageous book; it is not very usual that writers write about homosexuality in this part of the world. There are detailed descriptions of how 'funny' boy becomes funny. He plays with girls, likes putting making on and dressing up like girls. Somehow, such aberrations are not frowned upon in most households in the subcontinent; most families for religious or cultural reasons are not too quick to brand, categorize or shame such non-normative behaviour. However, this does not mean that non-normative sexual behaviour is encouraged or given legitimacy if one indulges it. The boy suffers because it is difficult for him to fit in. He is expected to play the boy's role but he wants the girl's role. Such struggles could be really killing when one is so young and unaware of codes sanctioned to bodies at birth.

My favourite sections of the book are those where we are in the company of the novel's boy-protagonist, where we see: his loves, his fears, his hurts. There are long chapters, probably internally relevant to the story, to the lives presented in the story, I did not find particularly interesting as they deal with the civil unrest and political upheavals.

One of the most poignant scenes in the novel is toward the end. His mother for the first time sees his difference and looks at him in a way she has never looked at him. That unusual, strange, probing, rejecting look of his own mother makes him feel like a stranger in his own home. He instinctively understands what that look meant.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
3,950 reviews2,176 followers
April 17, 2022
Impressed 💝
***2022 Favourite Book***
🔆Beautiful prose; life changing moments; heartbreaking romances (more than you can handle probably!); riots and communal violence; big family drama; school life; LGBTQIAP rep

Let’s talk about stereotypes!

💔 still a very underrated gem

I just couldn’t put down this book as the writing and the narrator did something to my mind hitting me hard once I get to know the characters and how the story started with such a lukewarm welcome that I found it quite comforting despite the horrors I was going to face knowing the secrets of each of the characters introduced.

Yes, hidden secrets and protected memories play a huge part in this story.

Narrated by a young person who is growing up quite innocently in a huge household, playing happily with the girls and loving the most precious moments with their mother watching her get ready for the day, the harsh reality gets thrown to them passive aggressively once people around them gets uncomfortable with their preferences and tastes.

What would people say plays a major role more significantly in the main character’s life than everyone else’s and nobody, I say, not even their parents and the adults who are supposed to protect them, are the ones who are making their life miserable more than the ‘people’ they are talking about.

This book gave me major Japanese and Thai BL vibes. Also, there’s a major school scene which reminds me so much of the ‘Three Idiots’ movie. You will know what I am talking about when you read this book.

Know their secrets. Know the dirty faces of the society. Know the reality of discrimination. Know the harsh truths of being born differently. This book has so many important things to tell you.

Absolutely recommending this book as a once in a lifetime unforgettable read.

*trigger warnings for corporal punishment scenes, homophobic comments, assault and abuse
Profile Image for Dilushani Jayalath.
862 reviews160 followers
June 27, 2021
I feel rather sad, not giving this a 5 star. A part of me almost felt a 3 star was stretching it too but at the same time I felt a certain inexplicable sadness. It was as if a certain nagging in my head said that giving this such a low score is almost blasphemy but at the same time my heart is not willing to.

As a Sri Lankan the content in this heavy. The story is immersed in the 1983 riots. The start of a strong Civil War that follow decades afterwards. I have already mentioned this in length in my previous review of the author’s thus I will not go far too much into it. The version I saw and lived through was definitely different from the one that Arjie went through. I lived through the last decade or more of the war and I can’t say it was the same as the beginning. By the time it had already reached its climax. There was no longer correct or wrong side. Both sides were receiving heavy blows. The actual reason for the beginning of the war was long lost, both sides had forgotten the trigger of the war. One of the worst burning was mentioned in the book itself. The burning down of the Jaffna Library. The immense knowledge lost due to it, the cultural icon of Jaffna lost along with it. To this day many weep for it. At the same time I remember few houses down mine, a family weeping for the loss of their child who was coming back from a school game, unfortunately bombed, a son lost forever. The justice that anyone was fighting for, was long lost. There were days that my family spent, not knowing even if I would make it back alive from school. Now thinking back, I cannot even imagine how I survived. Maybe it was due to my young age, maybe we were already used to it. I was born in this war and I grew up in this war. We saw what it did to everyone, irrespective of being a Tamil or Sinhalese. In the end it only took away precious lives and for what reason?

The plot is centered amongst this. The book itself is nostalgic, the places mentioned are places I pass by regularly (with the only change is the school names but a very huge hint was given to as what the schools are referring to), the roads I have passed countless times. A small walk in the past. I could almost smell the coconut oil on ammachchi’s hair but no my own grandmother didn’t use it. I think she leaned more to the western yet Sri Lankan type. Truthfully speaking I do not want to dwell or speak too much on the heavy topic of the story and yet I have said more than I should. Even thinking back brings sorrow so why did I not give this book a higher rating? After all it really did struck a strong chord with me? Maybe it was due to the melancholic feelings that were left in me after turning that last page? Maybe it was my inability to actually connect to Arjie. Whatever it was it just left me feeling like a husk not the overbearing excitement I naturally have after the end of novels. So with that heavy thought I will conclude this rather heavy burden of a review.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
June 10, 2014
I believe I read Selvadurai's second book first, and am now reading his first book second. Not that they need to be read in any order, but I'm wondering about his progression as an author. Also, is there a third? Because I liked Funny Boy more than Cinnamon Gardens. And looking it up, looks like yes, there are more of his books to explore.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Sandhya.
130 reviews367 followers
July 31, 2007
Personal, heart-felt and deeply emotional, Funny Boy is an outright masterpiece. The best thing about the novel is its simple, innocent and poignant narrative...one of the most passionate and intense books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 5 books1,816 followers
September 15, 2022
There is a great deal to admire about this novel, which I’ve owned for years, but have only just now gotten around to reading: its subtlety, restraint, and clarity is quite welcome. However, the subtlety occasionally veered into a kind of repetitive blandness, as Selvadurai described facial expressions and gestures in an almost clinical manner, making the full emotional impact remain a bit elusive for me.

His ear for dialogue, which unerringly rang true, and his perceptive capturing of his characters’ shifting moods, were also quite appealing.

I also appreciate the thorough portrait he provides into a very troubled, violent chapter of Sri Lankan politics.

All in all, I wavered between giving this book 3 and 4 stars, with the fact that its emotional impact never fully landed in my core tilting it down to 3. But it’s still a very worthy and interesting coming-of-age novel.
Profile Image for Pinky.
490 reviews287 followers
November 21, 2016
I am so glad that I got a chance to read this book. This novel was chosen by my teacher for us to read for an assignment. I should be working on the assignment right now, but it's been awhile since I wrote a book review. I loved this book so much and I am relieved to have read another book. I'm in a huge reading slump and this book might've gotten me out of it. I learned so many things and it was easy to relate to.

"Yet those Sundays, when I was seven, marked the beginning of my exile from the world I loved."

In Sri Lanka, there is conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Arjie is a boy who is Tamil and lives with his family in Sri Lanka. As he grows up, he realizes his sexuality and the state of his country. This novel shows the racism in Sri Lanka, the violent acts that took place and shows the perspective of an innocent family. Throughout this book, there were many themes that were brought up, which include gender roles, sexuality, coming of age, discrimination and many more.

"Society is not as forgiving as a sister."

This is a serious topic that hasn't been getting a lot of attention. As a Tamil myself, I haven't heard a lot about the genocide that is taking place in Sri Lanka. My mother was born at a very late time during the genocide and she hasn't told me much about it. I don't want to press on the topic because it may have been painful for her to relive her experiences. I have asked a couple of questions and she told me that most of the time, her family was on the run, from one place to another, to avoid being harmed by the Sinhalese. It's sad to see two different races fight over power.

The characters were great, I loved the main character a lot. Arjie is different from the others and it is because of his sexuality. He doesn't realize this at first, but he is more aware of it later on. He loves dressing up and playing with dolls. But society will not accept him because he will turn out to be 'funny'. Sonali is a sweet sister who supports Arjie on all of his decisions. Diggy is a boy who likes to fit in with society and is trying to look out for his brother, even though he is a little forceful and selfish at times.

A lot of characters in this book had horrible fates, it was very sad to see them go through the things they did. Marriages were mostly based on parents's opinions and their choices. A lot of people were racist, rather than looking at the person for their personality, a lot of people judged the person for their race. Sexuality is another factor that is forced upon everyone. In this society, they believe that being gay isn't normal. It is unbelievable, yet it is still taking place in present day. Marriages are supposed to be between Tamil people only and being gay isn't normal. We are slowly moving to accept everybody's differences, but it is taking awhile. I don't know why we can't just live and think about everyone as human beings, instead of treating a different race or a different sexuality as something weird and make a person feel alienated for who they are.

Sometimes, I have conversations with my mom because I am interested to hear her opinion. She didn't understand what homosexual meant. She didn't know that there were different types of sexualities. I told her everything I knew and explained how it wasn't wrong to be gay. And my mom finally understands and it's nice to see that she accepts it. My other relatives have yet to accept this but I am going to try my hardest to raise more awareness on this topic.

I want to learn more about what is going on in Sri Lanka because I am a Tamil. I should know about my background country. I went to Sri Lanka last year and I noticed that most of the signs, shops and people were Sinhalese. There were times when my family members were told not to go outside because there were riots. I didn't understand what was going on and when I asked questions, they were never answered.

I loved this book, even though it was heartbreaking. It forces you to see reality and how the world really is. It shows the struggles of people who want to marry a different race or of being different. The writing style was beautiful and I hated stopping in the middle of the book. I hope to read more by Shyam Selvadurai and am so glad he wrote this book.

I hope to write another review soon, so I'll see ya later!
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
650 reviews192 followers
March 18, 2021
“Yet those Sundays, when I was seven, marked the beginning of my exile from the world I loved. Like a ship that leaves a port for the vast expanse of sea, those much looked forward to days took me away from the safe harbour of childhood towards the precarious waters of adult life.”

RATING: 4.5/5

Structured as six interconnected stories, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story which revolves around the life of Arjie. He is the titular funny boy, a label given to him because he doesn't conform to the gender norms and beliefs of the society he inhabits. Through simple yet affected first-person narration, Selvadurai explores a changing world on the brink of violence, both implicit and explicit. He expertly joins the personal with the political, showing that they can never be independent of each other. Arjie's unique liminal position gives him the vantage point to look into the lives of his family members. Their transgressive experiences are crucial in constructing his own sense of self and the world.

Arjie must slowly come to terms with his "funniness", his evolving homosexuality, to negotiate a harrowing transition to adulthood in a country gone off the rails as ethnic violence kept on increasing. His constant subversion of the "normative code" of his community as he grapples with the complexity of identity brings up the themes of home and belonging. Challenging notions of masculinity and desire, it is a must-read.
Profile Image for Apoorv  Moghe.
250 reviews71 followers
August 20, 2022
Funny Boy | Shyam Selvadurai | 12Aug2022
One-Sentence Review
As tepid as it seemed at start, this ended up being one of the best second-half of a book that I have read in a while.
Published/Pages : 1994 | 320 pages
Location: Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBTQ+
TW: homophobia (including violence & slurs), forced sex, bullying, graphic descriptions of killings and attacks, racial protests, death of a loved one

Characters: Arjie Chelvaratnam, Janaki, Tanuja, Laxmi, Sonali, Radha, Anil Jayasinghe, Mala, Kanthi, Daryl, Neliya, Jegan Parameswaran, Amma, Appa, Ammachi, Appachi, Shehan Soyza, Black Tie, Andre Arokiyasamy
Rating Analysis

Premise: 8/10
Introduction: 8/10
Number of Characters: 7/10
Character Development: 7/10
Backup History for the Story: 8/10
Fiction Quality: 7/10
Pace of the Story: 8/10
Dramatic Effect: 8/10
Climax: 9/10
Impact it Made: 8/10

TOTAL: 78/100 (7.8 Stars = 3.9 Stars ~ ★★★★)

Reaction Section
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
610 reviews751 followers
July 14, 2010
There's no accounting for taste. This book was pressed on me with the highest praise, and a lot of reviews here mention the exquisite writing. But what is exquisite about this? The narrator, Arjie has been informed that he is to go to the Academy where his older brother is already a student. His own displeasure at the idea turns to dread when his brother gives him a friendly warning not to provoke the head teacher by doing anything sinful like blinking or licking his lips in his presence. "The remainder of the Christmas holidays was completely ruined for me." There are more indicators that he is horrified by the prospect in store for him, then we get this sentence: "The Christmas holidays ended all too soon and one morning I woke with a sense of foreboding, a feeling that something terrible awaited me that day. Then I saw my new school uniform over the chair." I'm sorry, but that is plodding, not exquisite.

The first story is a nicely pitched nostalgic memory of Arjie's games of bride-bride with his female cousins in preference to cricket with the boys, and here the simple language suits the seven year old narrator, and he captures the jealousies and malicious tricks of childhood well. But this innocent simplicity continues into the tales of the older Arjie, and quickly begins to pall. The other thing that jars somewhat is the way the author deals with the considerable limitations of choosing a child's first person point of view. Poor Arjie seems to spend an awful lot of his childhood listening at windows and loitering around verandahs or being conveniently ill in the room next door in order to gain an adult's insight into the growing Civil War in Sri Lanka.

An acceptable coming-of-age, coming-out story, but not mind-blowing.
62 reviews1 follower
September 4, 2007
I love this book! It reminded me of little things from my childhood in Colombo…things I am slowing forgetting as I get older. Things like calling a wardrobe an almariah, like going to school in a uniform and coming home for lunch, like all the silly nicknames kids gifted - or maybe cursed - each other with, (ie: Diggy nose and Her Fatness) and even the make-believe games we used to play since we didn’t have all the entertaining toys that kids nowadays have. I also admire how the author is able to tell both the Tamil and Sinhala side of the story without being biased, as well as how it reveals the softer side and the many intricacies of the conflict in SL. I can relate to this story like nothing I’ve encountered ever before. It makes me mourn the loss of how Sri Lanka once was, or at least what I remember of how it was. One thing to note about this book is the wholly inaccurate book reviews! All the critics classify it as a book about “growing up gay in SL”…I wonder why?? Yes, the main character is gay but this fact is such a small (like 25%?) part of the story that you hardly even need to mention it in a book review. I am unsure why the critics dwell on it however it might be because it was one of the only recognizable themes for the western critics. After all, they really wouldn’t understand the authors accurate painting of growing up in the Sri Lanka of the late 70’s/early 80’s.
Profile Image for Megan.
216 reviews20 followers
September 28, 2021
Okay, nope. Nope nope nope. Nope.

Where to start, friends? Where to start?

I tried to give this novel the benefit of the doubt, really and truly, I did. I thought, "ok, so it has an agenda i disagree with, but maybe there'll be beauty to balance out the ick. after all, i've been fangirling over Oscar Wilde all week, and Oscar Wilde has some Problematic Content. so i'll be as open-minded as i can be, without letting my brain fall out."

And friends, there was beauty. The prose is very good; Chapter One features cousins splitting into The Girl Group and The Boy Group, to which I relate hardcore; I actually have some cultural awareness of Sri Lanka now, which is Good; each chapter is like its own short story, and usually, I was pretty invested; Shehan needs a hug; Shehan's friendship with Arjie was sweet, BUT--

and that "but" is where begins All The Reasons I Cannot Give This Novel More Than One Star Or It Would Mean My Brain Had Fallen Out.

Shehan and Arjie's friendship was sweet, GENUINELY sweet, insofar as they were standing up to the bully principal and whatnot.









...Arjie is in NO position to be giving consent here, okay? He is....a child. A wee, small, traumatized child. He's being BULLIED by the PRINCIPAL and he's CONFUSED about how to navigate this new school and these awful adults, and Shehan is his only friend so it makes sense that he'd be latching onto him and wanting to keep his friendship. But then he feels all this pressure to respond to Shehan's affection in some way? And Shehan is--as far as I know Shehan's basically the same age as Arjie, but he's /considerably/ more experienced than Arjie so that makes him feel MUCH older, and the fact that he's leading Arjie on into a sexual relationship when THEY ARE FOURTEEN and have only known each other for I DON'T KNOW, A WEEK OR TWO MAYBE? just feels SO SO SO SO wrong.

...Graphic sex scenes always make me mad but this one--scratch that, these ones--have me PARTICULARLY steamed. Because...because. CHILDREN. Are PRESSURING EACH OTHER AND THEMSELVES INTO HAVING SEX. THIS IS NOT GOOD. THIS IS NOT OK.

...And again, I'm aware this may be standard for YA, but...WHY SHOULD THAT MAKE IT ANY BETTER.

...And also, 99.99% sure this is NOT considered YA? Like, I think it's meant for an adult audience? Which makes it somehow even creepier in my eyes? Like...giving teenagers descriptions of teenagers having sex is bad, but giving adults descriptions of teenagers having sex is....child abuse?

It feels like child pornography, is what I'm saying, guys. It feels Very Very Very Wrong.

Arjie knows it feels wrong and then at a certain point he comes to the conclusion, "But how could loving Shehan be wrong?" and it's like ............

....... child i'm not even gonna touch the whole homosexuality issue right now, i just want you to know that "sex in a garage with someone you barely know" DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LOVE.

UGH. I am MAD.

And the worst part is the book had potential, doggonit. There are Pretty Things In It. I could've Cared About The Characters. I could've Engaged With The Thematic Discussions or whatever.

Uggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh *sobs* *pounds head on desk* *makes wailing screaming noises* Ugh I guess I'd better go write the assigned essay that goes with this novel now.

(Just. Don't read this book, kids. Stick with Oscar Wilde.)
Profile Image for Ravi Gangwani.
210 reviews104 followers
April 5, 2017
It was the story of small boy in Sri Lanka, who lives in family of mother, father, siblings and surrounded by his extended family and how his life changes as per political scenario of the country. How they forced to leave the country and go to Canada. Here is the pattern in which this book goes :

First 1/6th of book was - childhood time games of 7 year kid.
Second 1/6th of the book was - Life of an Tamil aunt who falls in love with a Sinhalese man.
Third 1/6th of the book - Death of the mother's former lover.
Fourth 1/6th of the book - Son of father's old dead friend and letting him on job.
Fifth 1/6th of the book - teenage gay love.
Last 1/6th of the book - immigrating to Canada as increasing hostilities towards Tamils
3.5 Marks out of 5 exactly.
A good fast read book on life of kid in his growing years in Sri Lanka. I really liked the ending of the book that kept me hooked and shocked.
Profile Image for Sonali Dabade.
Author 4 books311 followers
June 19, 2021
4.5 stars!

What a beautiful, heartbreaking, enlightening, educational book this is!

I need some time to wrap my head around this book. Review will come soon (hopefully).
Profile Image for Mahima.
177 reviews123 followers
May 31, 2017
"The difference within me that I sometimes felt I had, that had brought me so much confusion, whatever this difference, it was shared by Shehan. I felt amazed that a normal thing - like my friendship with Shehan - could have such powerful and hidden possibilities."

"Right and wrong, fair and unfair had nothing to do with how things really were. I thought of Shehan and myself. What had happened between us in the garage was not wrong. For how could loving Shehan be bad? [...] It had to do with who was in charge; everything had to do with who held power and who didn't. [...] Was it not possible for people like Shehan and me to be powerful too?"

First from the lens of the naïve simplicity of childhood, then from that of the more intricately built world of the adults, with its secrets, its injustice, and its capacity of violence, the protagonist of Shyam Selvadurai’s novel Funny Boy, Arjie, takes us on a journey in Sri Lanka, exploring his sexual identity against the backdrop of the Sinhala-Tamil cultural tension culminating in the 1983 riots.

Arjie’s gradually increasing awareness of his ‘funny’ sexuality is juxtaposed with his awareness of the position given to his Tamil ethnicity within the prevailing discourses of national identity in the late 1970s and early 1980s Sri Lanka. As is the case with many South Asian novels in English, the private and the public, the personal and the political become inextricable. Selvadurai weaves the fabric of everyday life with at times violent communal, national, and gendered threads.

The novel is filled with transcendental moments, both positive (Arjie’s dressing up and role-playing as a bride as a child) and negative (the destruction of his family home by the rioting mobs), moments that remove Arjie from the bound of spatial spaces, literal or metaphorical, gendered or ethnic. As a non-heteronormative Tamil, Arjie occupies an almost invisible space. Arjie’s comment “I don’t feel at home in Sri Lanka any longer” is sad in more ways than one because for a queer figure the home and the nation are already always unavailable. The novel, then, becomes a space of reclamation for the subaltern.

Indeed, it is a powerful novel, much more powerful than I had expected it to be. I started reading this with hopes that I won’t be disappointed. I’m finishing it with a surety that it will always stay with me.
Profile Image for Brooklyn.
185 reviews51 followers
January 18, 2021
Wonderful first novel from 1994 and recent Netflix movie. Funny Boy is the story of young boy Arjie and his coming out against the background of the Tamil/Sinhalese civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1980s and eventual escape as a refugee to Canada. Arjie’s struggle with accepting his sexual and gender identity is really only the subject of two of the six chapters - that are more like interlocking novellas with most of the same characters. Beautifully written and powerful - this is also an Amnesty International recommended book- atmospheric and tender in its depiction of characters and their emotional life pitted against a world that is collapsing. Each chapter is so well written and so strong - yet there are moments of irony and humor and humanity that lighten the bleak events. Powerful debut and highly recommended.
Profile Image for P..
440 reviews112 followers
January 2, 2020

Queer adolescence meets the beginnings of a civil war in this exquisite book, interweaving the story of Sri Lanka's civil war with the self-realization of a teenager beginning to grow comfortable with his sexuality. These two unlikeliest of themes fuse together in such a brilliant fashion that the resultant novel is an absolute stunner! Queer novels from the Indian subcontinent are so rare, and one so effortlessly accomplished that also deals with another issue close to my heart - the Sri Lankan war, is doubly so.

As a Tamil, I was consumed with obsessively seeking out any developments of the Sri Lankan civil war with faint hope and increasing dread, and I still remember the unsurpassable gloom that marked the final days of the war. They were some of the darkest days etched in the collective Tamil memory. An air of utter despair pervaded every nook and corner. I remember watching one Channel 4 documentary which I've never recovered from. It was the truth that the mainstream Indian media never bothered to report. Genocide in the land of Buddha.

It is precisely the beginnings of this war in 80s that Funny Boy masterfully renders on the page, from the viewpoint of an adolescent. The sense of foreboding; the dread; the panic; the blind hopes that minor violences wouldn't escalate into anything worse; the sinister majority gaining an upper hand; the slow, steady, and insidious rise of racial tensions blowing into a raging pandemonium, a guiltless bloodbath, state-sponsored ethnic cleansing. All this tension is packed skillfully in these pages, and balancing this unbearable suspense and the approaching shadow of war is the love story that is no less chaotic in the effect it has on our protagonist's inner life and his self-image. Brought up to not digress from the traditional notions of masculinity, he loathes the idea of being attracted to men. Thankfully, he grows comfortable in his own skin and gains some sense and inner harmony - precisely the very things that are gradually lost in his nation in the spirit of greed.

His voice rings false in certain sections where the opinions seem too perspicacious to issue forth from an adolescent. Also his school days don't seem to be as fully realized as they could have been. There was some potential for longer sections there, especially with Soyza, and I was a bit disappointed with this under-exploration. The Tamil family described is a part of a very miniscule minority, cushioned by their wealth and equipped to move to another country. Though I'm clear that this is their story, I was left wondering how the ordinary people tackled this sudden war.

From what little I knew before starting this book, I expected Funny Boy to be nothing more than a queer bildungsroman, a cosy family story about this funny boy's family members learning to accept him and reconcile with his sexuality. But -

this unexpected dimension of civil war,

the skillful fusion of two themes that are very close to my heart,

the story gushing forth in a wild forceful torrent through the lucid, unobtrusive writing,

the delicate realization of sexuality juxtaposed with an inevitable war,

the sheer compulsion this story radiated -

all this guaranteed that this book would be one of my most memorable reads in the recent times. That might also be why I finished this in a single day.

Also, it turns out that this is the 500th book I've read, according to Goodreads.
Profile Image for Claudia.
20 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2021
Qué bonito y qué triste y, ay mi corazoncito! Pequeño Arjie, espero que te vaya todo genial.
Profile Image for Laura.
416 reviews24 followers
October 6, 2011
This book sets up an interesting series of observed relationships that culminate first in Arjie's sexual awakening and then his political (or apolitical) awakening around the time of the civil war in Sri Lanka. The stories of the forbidden love and the politically-troubled relationships he observes as a child bear closely on the choices he makes in his relationship with Shehan. He sees his family constantly pushing against the social expectations of a Tamil family and is brought into danger by their actions, but he makes choices based on similar principles -- that love and friendship are more important than politics, that people are not the ethnicity they belong to, that life should not be lived by the arbitrary rules of society.

Similar to Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, the story is also about the development of an artist, culminating the writing experiment/achievement of the epilogue. The stories within the novel -- of bride-bride, Radha Aunty, Darryl Uncle, and Jegan -- seem to serve as practice or setup for the 'reality' of the epilogue -- the real-life crisis that forces the family to leave Sri Lanka as refugees, made more immediate and critical through the diary form.

(I guess this is just going to be a three-star kind of class? Maybe I should try harder.)
Profile Image for Dusty Myers.
57 reviews23 followers
April 10, 2008
The only thing this collection of stories (billed as a novel, but no way) adds to the coming-out genre is its setting: the Sri Lankan Civil War. This is probably enough. Probably, we should have variants of the coming-out novel in every possible culture of the world. But for someone who's about waist-deep in coming out novels these days, Funny Boy has so little to offer.

And the writing, despite claims from the blurbs in the back, is not exquisite; is, in fact, never very creative or beautiful. "As in a dream, I felt myself slipping into a blackness where all my thought disintegrated. The entire world became the sensation in my mouth and Shehan's tongue probing, retreating, intertwining with mine."

There seems in the plainest books of the coming-out genre to be no other way to describe a first kiss. Every word here has come from everyone else. And some of it is downright awful. "With a heavy heart, I slowly went back up to the beach." Where is the talent this book's covers promise?

This novel would be interesting had it been written in 1983, or in the year or so after the Sri Lankan conflict escalated. But for 1994 it just seems redundant.
Profile Image for Tomás.
5 reviews3 followers
May 1, 2021
Lo escogí para hacer un trabajo de la universidad y no podría haberme sorprendido más, es un libro precioso con el que he aprendido muchísimas cosas y con el que he disfrutado muchísimo. Me ha devuelto las ganas de leer :)
Profile Image for Ariel Uppstrom.
453 reviews8 followers
September 15, 2010
This was an interesting book. It was really cool to learn about Sri Lanka and the culture and lifestyles of the people. I also am always drawn to stories of gay young people in foreign countries who experience a different understanding of their sexuality.

I didn't like how most of the story was about other people, not the main character and his situations. Only 2 parts were really focused on his life and problems while the rest was about other people in his family or friends. It just didn't seem to have any bearing on his life at the time and only interrupted his story. I also found the book completely different from the epilogue. The epilogue was incredibly serious and depressing and upsetting while the rest of the novel was kind of serious but more just reporting a story. It was hard to bring the two things together. Overall, I enjoyed it, but found it difficult to get through.
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