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Reef Hardcover – April 1, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; Presumed to be 1st as edition is unstated edition (April 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565842197
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565842199
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gerrit Ruitinga on November 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This short novel has so many dimensions that it is hard to say where to start. It is a beautiful description of the growing up from a shy boy to a confident professional of Triton, the servant. It has as a background the change in the Sri Lankan society and the decay of the ruling class. Through Mr Salando, Nili and his friends we get a good view on the differences between East and West. To see the 70's hippie, going to India to seek whatever it is, suddenly turn up as a very destructive force in the Eastern cultural fabric is quite hilarious. Above all, it is a beautiful story, told in a very poetical way and never failing to make the reader feel part of it.. Finally, the scenes in London are, again, painted with a beautifully fine brush. I will on my visits to London never again look at an Asian shopkeeper or restaurant owner in the same way....
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Format: Paperback
Romesh Gunesekera's debut novel "Reef" is a poignantly observed tale of lost innocence, human courage and determination, and of the deep cultural divide separating the Western educated intelligentia and natives of post-colonial Sri Lanka. The humble servant boy, Triton, is steeped in old world values but hero worships the intellect of his marine geologist employer, Mr Salgado. Both fail to come to terms with the political issues of the day. Triton is too busy keeping house and entertaining Mr Salgado's friends to care. His employer spends his time astral travelling and nursing his many esoteric concerns while impressing his girlfriend, Nili, with his hospitality. Ironically, it is the humble Triton who shows more strength of character and resourcefulness than any of the educated lot. The outcome of Mr Salgado's affair with Nili is reflective of the tension generated by an evolving value system. "Reef" is both subtle and lyrical in its appeal and Gunesekera rewards us with an ending that is both heartwarming and uplifting. It is an impressive debut by Gunesekera and not surprisingly shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
After a short break in Sri Lanka, as someone of dual nationality with Sri Lanka I was enveloped by this book which I read in quite a short time. It begins well, but I found so much of it quite morbid and fearful, both at the level of political/terrorist violence and at a sexual level.

The author's trademark topic is food which is well treated in his short stories (read Monkfish Moon by him for more) and really well served up in Reef. This and many other exotic features such as wildlife, native patois are obvious highlights and selling points in the book. Dialogues are sketchy, incomplete and we can fill in the missing words even if the degree of articulateness is lacking or obtuse.

There are dark, brooding undercurrents and Mr Salgado ultimately is a failed, lonely guy - in romance and in his job (though the romantic side is incomplete - by the end and there may be reconcilliation). His failure is because of the nature of Sri Lanka itself apart from anything personal. The way that the governments there cannot be expected to protect people or do any real good and the way the country swings from one extreme to another. This is captured in the dialogue.

There are also dark sexual overtones/undertones in this book. Things to do with homosexuality, male bonding, fear psychoses, violence. Sexual references are covert and psychological - e.g., there is a greatly distorted story of Angulimala, more violent than the original describing a necklace of fingers, but in a subtext, penises. True to Sri Lankan style, we don't hear much beyond a couple gazing at each other and finding comfort in company. At the end there is a violent break up, perhaps too violent.

I am concerned that the impression of Sri Lanka conveyed may be overcritical, brooding and dark.
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Format: Hardcover
A finalist for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, "Reef" is the story of a Sri Lankan boy who carves out a place for himself in a precarious world.
Animated by the lyrical narration of Triton, whose simple, focused voice resounds with enthusiasm and curiosity, mixed with the ignorance of the humble and uneducated, this is a touching, absorbing, entertaining novel.
In the first pages, Triton is an adult, a restaurant owner in England, who stops at a gas station and encounters a cowering immigrant attendant who begs his help in figuring out his new job.
Triton is plunged into the memories of 20 years before in Sri Lanka when, on the eve of a "bungled coup" he is scarcely aware of, he was brought to work at age 11 for Mister Salgado, a brooding scientist with a pessimistic passion for the nation's coral reefs.
"Mister Salgado's house was the centre of the universe, and everything in the world took place within its enclosure."
His life shadowed by the hated figure of Joseph, the manservant, young Triton secures some pieces of onion to rub on the man's bed pallet. But suddenly there's an eruption of screams from next door. The old wife, it turns out, has tied her unfaithful husband in the bath and rubbed him all over with chilli powder. Triton chucked away his onion quarters; "they seemed too tame, but I was not ready to use chilli yet."
But soon, after a scene of abuse Triton can never speak of, Joseph is banished from the house and Triton has what he wants. He has Mr. Salgado to himself and he goes about his work with single-minded dedication, anticipating his employer's wishes, reading his books, emulating him in small matters like list-making.
But even this is not enough.
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