- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1573225339
- ISBN-13: 978-1573225335
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #918,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reef Paperback – February 1, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Gunesekera's novel of a young houseboy in Sri Lanka was a Booker Prize finalist.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"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"
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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. With the outside world irrelevant, except as it affects the mood and movements of his master, Triton, an ambitious man even if he doesn't know it, transforms himself into a chef extraordinaire. There is nothing he cannot create.
And a new, exciting presence at the house, Nili, a woman with an appreciative appetite, and a salutary effect on Mr. Salgado, spurs Triton to go all out. The food is "more than good. I knew, because I can feel it inside me when I get it right. It's a kind of energy that revitalizes every cell in my body. Suddenly everything becomes possible and the whole world, that before seemed slowly to be coming apart at the seams, pulls together."
The house enjoys a resurgence of love and energy but outside events intrude, eroding their homelife and threatening their physical safety. Triton ignores politics as no concern of his, but no one can remain apart from the world, although it doesn't necessarily do any harm to try.
Absorbed in his art, focused on his master, Triton finds contentment and satisfaction which he conveys in simple, delectable language and deceptively offhand anecdotes. Triton is a captivating character and Gunesekera a subtle, graceful writer with a rich feel for language.
Reef is not just a story, however, as fascinating as that may be. It is a delicate allegory of the small changes which can bring cataclysmic results to a society, just as the coral reef which Ranjan Salgado studies is "very delicate. It has survived aeons, but even a small change in the immediate environment...could kill it." With the gap between the educated and the "underclass" in Sri Lanka very wide, and portentous changes occurring to the country politically, the reader is constantly reminded that, like the reef, "if the structure is destroyed...then the whole thing will go." As Salgado's love for Nili makes him more and more self-centered and less altruistic, and as political movements inspired by other countries become more aggressive, the "small changes in the immediate environment" begin for Triton.
In prose that shimmers with the light of the tropics and the scent of flowers, the reader is absorbed into the Sri Lankan jungle and sea, watching as the outside world propels along the small changes which may devour everything--the jungle, the sea, and the cultural fabric of which they have all been part for eons. As as one reads this remarkable novel, one joins with Triton and Salgado in yearning for peace, the "twilight when the forces of darkness and the forces of light are evenly matched and in balance [and] there is nothing to fear. No demons, no troubles, no carrion. An elephant swaying to a music of its own." Mary Whipple