Shyam Selvadurai does for Sri Lanka what Vikram Seth does for India. He weaves in the social, political, cultural and historical events of an era into a family drama and presents to you the story of people and a country. The book entwines many strong plots to make a well-structured and well written story - the marriage and search for suitable grooms, politics of the British on acknowledgement of universal franchise, freedom of Sri Lanka, ending era of rich landlords and emerging labour rights, clashes of Tamils and Sinhalese, gay relationship between an Englishman and a heir to a conservative patriarch, exploitation of the poor, family boycotts, taboo of inter caste marriage, influence of Christian missionaries, liberalisation of women, etc. Too many plots if not ably handled can prove disastrous with the book becoming a sad attempt at literature and storytelling but turning out to be a potpourri of popular ideals and ideals to meet various audiences.
The characters in Cinnamon Gardens are well etched each having a strong opportunity to perform and play their roles to excellence. Even the negative and small length characters have a strong portrayal with important entry and exits. I particularly liked the way Shyam Selvadurai has captured the society, environment and challenges of the Sri Lanka of 1920s. This is the main reason for which I compare him with Vikram Seth who beautifully captured the India of 1950s in his book ‘The Suitable Boy’ along with themes of match making and political scenario of the times. Clearly the writers have exceptional gift of storytelling and capturing the essence of his characters and setting. I could actually visualise the story unfurling and characters taking shape and form in front of me.
Looking forward to more of Selvadurai’s work – definitely an author to watch out for.