Saturday, 20 March 2021

Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai

Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai
Published by McClelland & Stewart on the 1st September 1998.

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Shyam Selvadurai's masterful second novel, set in repressive and complex 1920s Ceylon, the Cinnamon Gardens is a residential enclave of wealthy Ceylonese. Among them is Annalukshmi, an independent and high-spirited young teacher intent on thwarting her parents' plans to arrange her marriage. In a parallel narrative, her uncle, Balendran Navaratnam, respectably married but secretly homosexual, has his life disrupted by the arrival in Ceylon of Richard, a lover from long ago. 

I bought myself a copy of this novel over two years ago and have no idea why it has taken me so long to get around to reading it. I think I expected it to be a deeply literary work whereas it is actually a much lighter, very readable story of people trying to be true to themselves in an era and place of stifling repression. I recognised elements of Annalukshmi's predicament - to have the freedom to determine her own fate whilst still remaining respectable - replicated in many women's stories from around the world. Her advanced education has already rendered her unmarriageable in the eyes of some potential suitors' families and Annalukshmi herself has no intention of abandoning her burgeoning teaching career for a housewife's life. This storyline intertwines with that of Annalukshmi's uncle, Balendran, a homosexual man who, in deference to his father's privileged place in society, has attempted to completely repress his tendencies toward 'inversion', as he calls it.

I appreciated Selvadurai's having his characters focus their thoughts on the happiness potential of their life choices especially, as in Balendran's case, where he has convinced himself that he is better off living as he should rather than as he wants to. Each of these two central characters stubbornly follows a narrow example of what they believe to be their ideal lives and it isn't until they gain much greater insights that they start to question their determination. Selvadurai contrasts these individual stories with that of Ceylon's struggle towards self-government and independence which took place during the era in which the book is set. Having spent decades under colonial British rule, the Ceylonese people might have a chance to finally choose their own path, but of course, every possible ruling faction has their own ideas about what is best for everybody else.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Shyam Selvadurai / Historical fiction / Books from Sri Lanka

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