Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this thoughtful, entrancing tale of a Sinhalese houseboy's maturation takes place in the early 1980s, in the edenic calm before Sri Lanka erupts in violence. Marine biology and native cuisine become metaphors for political and personal change as Gunesekera chronicles the story of Triton, who is 11 years old in 1962, his father an alcoholic, his mother dead, when he comes to the estate of aristocratic bachelor Ranjan Salgado. At first, Triton does odd chores for the houseman and cook, but gradually the clever lad learns all the workings of the household, and he eventually emerges as Salgado's only servant-in the process becoming a skillful and creative cook. Salgado himself is a lonely academic, fascinated with marine life and the evolution of the sea. Triton takes care of his master with an almost parental love, all the while learning about the world from Salgado's conversations and his many books. Ultimately, Triton finds himself living on his own in London, an independent restaurateur, wistfully remembering his homeland in happier times. Gunesekera (Moonfish Moon) brings a moving combination of innocence and wisdom to Triton's first-person narration. His spare, lyrical prose evokes the sensuous heat of the tropical island and conveys mouthwatering descriptions of Triton's many culinary triumphs. And his take on the synergies of politics, nature and personal striving is subtle and intriguing. (Feb.)
This gracefully written novel depicts the seemingly tranquil existence of Triton and his master, Mr. Salgado. They live surrounded by white flame trees and jam trees, red-beaked parrots, and yellow-eared salaleenas on the island-nation of Sri Lanka in the turbulent years that anticipate the escalation of civil war in 1983. Triton, a devoted servant and gifted chef, has never strayed far from the home of Mr. Salgado. He is so absorbed in performing his tasks that the political events taking place in Sri Lanka are no more than overheard conversations. As Triton grows in political awareness, Mr. Salgado remains a motivating force in his life. After Mr. Salgado leaves with Triton for London, Triton sets out on a course of self-education, reading the hundreds of books in his master's library. Triton's narrative is filled with details of sensory experiences and memories of youthful fears and dreams. Gunesekera is the author of a collection of short stories, Monkfish Moon: Short Stories (New Pr., 1993), which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1993. Recommended for most collections.-Rebecca Stuhr-Rommereim, Grinnel Coll. Lib., Ia.
School Library Journal
YA-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, rebellion, and growth. The author delves into his characters' souls with ease, serving up a smorgasbord of tastes and interests. Triton, the adolescent narrator, forsakes his father's home to work as a houseboy for the patrician Mister Salgado, a scientist, a philanthropist, and, importantly, a politician. The story chronicles Triton's growth and experiences through an examination of the various relationships formed while living on Salgado's compound. He learns to love; he develops the skills required to become a professional chef; he becomes a young man. In addition to the personal conflicts, this is a novel of political intrigue; the Marxist revolution and ensuing class conflict serve to disrupt the bucolic lives led by the protagonists. The final separation between Salgado and Triton represents a growth and a loss for both. This beautiful, nontraditional, multidimensional story of loving and growing leaves readers with much to contemplate. With its tender and intimate detail, it offers readers an opportunity to become attached to the characters, become involved in their plight, and read a superlative narrative.-Richard Klein, Oakton High School, Vienna, VA
After slowly and reverently savoring Gunesekera's debut novel, it's easy to see why this flawless book was short-listed for the Booker Prize. In spare, poetic language, Gunesekera tells the story of a Sri Lankan servant and his esteemed employer, Ranjan Salgado, a compassionate man obsessed by the destruction of coral reefs and with Nili, the woman he loves. Only a youth when he enters Salgado's home, Triton acquires far more than cooking and cleaning skills. Over the course of many years together, Salgado and Triton witness the growing political turmoil and unrest of their island nation, and Triton observes, emulates, and finally parts company with the man who has nurtured his budding intellect and inherent potential. Worthy of acclaim, this exquisitely rendered work signals a writer to be closely watched.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
“A book which touches powerfully and deeply.” –The Times (London)
“Gunesekera’s loving, elegiac prose lingers on so many minutely exquisite facets of tropical life that to read a few pages is to abandon your world for his. To enter the world of Reef is like diving underwater into shoals of glittering fish, among sculptures of living coral. Beauty is everywhere and time vanishes as you read.” –The San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerful, incandescent… Lost innocence in the final years before a war is the theme of this eloquent first novel.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Put your ear to the page, and you can almost hear the ocean whisper.” –The Independent