Caledoniyya

Falling in Love in Ceylon

cinnamon_gardensAlthough it is unconventional to laud a book only quarter-read, Shyam Selvadurai‘s Cinnamon Gardens is worthy of a break with tradition.

Annalukshmi, at this point, has avoided marriage proposals, favouring education and fearing marriage would bring an end to her freedom to learn, teach, swim in the sea and ride her bicycle (an act that earns her a ‘reputation’ in the community of Cinnamon Gardens).
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Here, on page 89, Annalukshmi, is approached by her mother, Louisa, and sister, Kumudini, to meet with a potential suitor:
‘In Annalukshmi’s mind, she had always imagined meeting her husband in precisely the way Kumudini had described. When she sat in the window-seat daydreaming, she imagined a young man coming up the steps of their verandah, hat in hand. She would be reading and someone (an always unspecified someone) would make the introduction. His hand would be dry and warm in hers, the hairs delicate on his wrist. He would ask her what she was reading and then they would discuss the book.
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Love would proceed from there.’
Set in 1920s British administered Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Cinnamon Gardens not only explores questions of limited and universal franchise and  independence, but also the more nuanced tensions that would, in later years, result in open conflict.
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ceylon-cinnamon-gardensAt dinner parties, the Ceylonese elite engage in heated debates: would a British Raj or Ceylonese Raj be better? If Ceylonese, what if the Raj is Sinhalese or Tamil?
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For each the other presents a daunting prospect, while the British are equally woeful.
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On a personal level, the gender interplay is captivating: the women are strong, steadfast and intelligent; although in the background, their wisdom transcends that of their socially and politically powerful husbands.
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From the outset, Annalukshmi resists marriage, concerned that she will be trapped with an abusive man and/or one who will compel her to relinquish her books and stymie her career.
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Her idol, the headmistress Miss Lawton, never married and represents the ideal: dedicated to work and loved by all her students – yet Annalukshmi fails to conceive the sacrifices made in the process.
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After observing a young married couple on the beach, she concedes to meet ‘the Macintosh boy’ and, as I am only on page 111, the outcome remains to unfold.
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Selvadurai holds the ability to address serious  issues of franchise, independence, sexuality, religion and gender in a profoundly nuanced manner while allowing humour, tragedy, politics and history to marry in the most successful manner.
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It is, thus far, a treat in which every word and sentence is savoured and doubtless my final review will echo similar sentiments.
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(Except longer and more rapturously.)

2 comments on “Falling in Love in Ceylon

  1. Lester
    April 1, 2013

    Fortunate for those who haven’t read this book, like myself, that you posted an early review. I’m convinced: I must read this book!

    • Layla
      April 1, 2013

      Super! And I’d love you hear your thoughts on it 🙂

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2013 by in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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