SHYAM SELVADURAI AT THE STOCKEY CENTRE
Shyam Selvadurai will be reading from his most recent novel The Hungry Ghosts at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Thursday 28 May at 7:30 pm.
I was first introduced to Shyam at the Trillium Book Awards when his novel Cinnamon Gardens was nominated for the award in 1999. He was then a stunningly beautiful 34 year-old – about the age of his narrator, Shivan Rassiah, in The Hungry Ghosts. Shyam Selvadurai, still very attractive and charming, lives with his partner of many years in Toronto, and now divides his time between Canada and Sri Lanka.
The Hungry Ghosts, according to legend, are those who, after death, are caught between worlds for having desired too much in life. It falls to us to “free them from suffering by feeding Buddhist monks”. In Shyam Selvadurai’s novel, The Hungry Ghosts, these figures linger in the present and haunt the living.
We begin with Shivan’s childhood in Sri Lanka and his relationship with his grandmother. One might almost have some pity for this grandmother “surrounded by so much that is good in life but unable to enjoy it” if she were not such a cruel and domineering tyrant.
There is much story – and much wisdom - in this novel, as the reader follows Shivan from his life as a child and teenager in Sri Lanka to Canada. It is not until the danger of unrest in Sri Lanka, and Shivan’s realization that he can never live in his homeland as a gay man, that the family has the courage to escape. In Toronto, Shivan, his mother and sister, establish a new life in the suburbs. Later Shivan moves to Vancouver, and as he matures he begins to come to terms with a tragedy in his past and, perhaps, put to rest the hungry ghosts that haunts him.
The Hungry Ghosts was shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award. His previous novels, Funny Boy, published in 1994, Cinnamon Gardens in 1998, and Swimming in the Monsoon Sea in 2007 have all received well-deserved acclaim.
Funny Boy is, in fact, one of my favourite books. Shyam subtly juxtaposes a boy's passage to adolescence and maturity with the upheavals of growing ethnic and civil unrest. The result is a brilliant and unforgettable novel about discovery and loss and the true feelings of the human heart. Set in the rich, exotic world of Sri Lanka amid a wonderful family of supporting characters - it is a jewel.
The last time Shyam Selvadurai came to Parry Sound he arrived by bus on a very blustery winter day in 2006. He met with high school students during the day to talk about his powerful young adult novel, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, a book that explores tumultuous first love with clarity, humour, and compassion.
Shyam Selvadurai was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965. His mixed Tamil/Sinhalese family immigrated to Canada in 1983. Shyam studied creative writing and theatre and has a BFA from York University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
One of the things I most love about "Canadian" literature is that it is made up of so many voices - voices from "foreign" lands. We have the immense good fortune to live in a country with the freedom that attracts people escaping intolerance and violence - we are made a much richer country by it. Shyam Selvadurai is one of those voices, and one of Canada's finest novelists.