Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Suncatcher by Romesh Gunesekera


Suncatcher by Romesh Gunesekera
Published in the UK by Bloomsbury on the 28th November 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads and my Book Of The Month for December 2019

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ceylon is on the brink of change. But Kairo is at a loose end. School is closed, the government is in disarray, the press is under threat and the religious right are flexing their muscles. Kairo's hard-working mother blows off steam at her cha-cha-cha classes; his Trotskyite father grumbles over the state of the nation between his secret flutters on horseraces in faraway England. All Kairo wants to do is hide in his room and flick over second-hand westerns and superhero comics, or escape on his bicycle and daydream. 

Then he meets the magnetic teenage Jay, and his whole world is turned inside out. 

A budding naturalist and a born rebel, Jay keeps fish and traps birds for an aviary he is building in the garden of his grand home. The adults in Jay's life have no say in what he does or where he goes: he holds his beautiful, fragile mother in contempt, and his wealthy father seems fuelled by anger. But his Uncle Elvin, suave and worldly, is his encourager. As Jay guides him from the realm of make believe into one of hunting-guns and fast cars and introduces him to a girl - Niromi - Kairo begins to understand the price of privilege and embarks on a journey of devastating consequence. 

Taut and luminous, graceful and wild, Suncatcher is a poignant coming-of-age novel about difficult friendships and sudden awakenings. Mesmerizingly it charts the loss of innocence and our recurring search for love - or consolation - bringing these extraordinary lives into our own.

I was blown away by Romesh Gunesekera's gorgeous prose throughout Suncatcher. It's such a beautifully written novel which vividly captures the sweltering and stifling atmosphere of 1960s Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was called back then). We see the nation at a social and political turning point, but through the eyes of young Kairo who isn't yet even old enough to really understand the dynamics of his own parents' relationship let alone the manoeuvrings of a whole nation. Gunesekera has created a completely convincing character in Kairo and, surprisingly, one with whom I could easily empathise, despite never having been a young boy myself! His desperate need for the older boy, Jay's, approval carries Suncatcher's compelling narrative. We know something must go wrong because this glorious coming-of-age summer cannot last indefinitely, however we have no way to tell where the threat to Kairo's innocence lies. There are several fate-tempting contenders.

I loved how Gunesekara portrays the unintentional callousness of teenagers. Jay has no real idea of how his actions affect others or the impact his ill-chosen insults have. He stands up for a bullied child, but then crushes his mother with a few words. The aviary is an interesting metaphor too. I saw in it reflections of most of the adult characters surrounding the boys, each trapped by circumstances beyond what they believe they can control. Suncatcher, I think, can be understood on various levels. It is an excellent historical novel which also has a lot to say about human relationships ostensibly in Ceylon, but similar interactions occur the world over. Indeed the multifaith Ceylon community could be a useful template for more fragmented societies. At the time of Suncatcher, we can see that religion will become divisive, but it hasn't happened yet. Instead two boys have one last burst of freedom before the adult world closes in.

Etsy Find!
by SLYstudiosINK in
New Mexico, USA

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Romesh Gunasekera / Historical fiction / Books from Sri Lanka

12 comments:

  1. Sounds an interesting concept for this story.

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  2. Gorgeous prose is always such a treat! Especially for emotional reads like this one. Unintentional callousness of teenagers is something I dealing with a lot lately at home :) LOL

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    1. Oooh, sorry to hear about your teenagers :-/
      Perhaps don't read this until they're through that phase!

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  3. Sounds pretty good, glad to hear you enjoyed it.

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    1. I loved Suncatcher! Might even be my book of the month!

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  4. This isn't my normal go-to but it does sound really good!

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    1. I was really impressed with the story and the writing. Might be worth a try!

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  5. This sounds like a powerful story. I love that the writing was so well done.

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  6. I have never read a book set in Sri Lanka or historical Ceylon before, so I would love to explore the different setting and time. It also sounds like the author really knows how to capture teenagers realistically.

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    1. I think you'd love Suncatcher. It's my Book Of The Month for December :-)

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