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Funny Boy  
FunnyBoy Cover.jpg
Cover from Emblem Editions
Author Shyam Selvadurai
Country Canada
Language English
Subject(s) Homosexuality, Diaspora, 1983 Colombo Riots
Genre(s) Fiction
Publisher Vintage, Emblem
Publication date 1994
Media type Paperback
Pages 328
ISBN 0771079516
OCLC Number 412624251

Funny Boy is a first-person novel by Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai. First published by McClelland and Stewart in September 1994, the novel won the Lambda Literary Award for gay male fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award.

Set in Sri Lanka where Selvadurai grew up, Funny Boy is constructed in the form of six poignant stories about a boy coming to age within an wealthy Tamil family in Colombo. Between the ages of seven and fourteen, he discovers his own gay nature, and also encounters the Sinhala-Tamil tensions leading up to the 1983 riots.

The novel presents vivid sketches of family members, friends, school teachers, shown co-operating, arguing, loving, and living. The large Tamil family, and its arguments and discussions reflect a specific culture, while in many aspects the problems are universal.

Tension mounts as the riots come closer to home, and the whole family sleeps in their shoes so they can quickly escape should the Sinhalese mobs descend.

When Selvadurai's Funny Boy was published in 1994, it was hailed as one of the most powerful renditions of the trauma of the prevailing ethnic tensions in contemporary Sri Lanka. Selvadurai brings together the struggles of sexuality, ethnicity and class. These issues arise during the development of the protagonist, Arjie, whose maturation is framed against the backdrop of ethnic politics.



Arjie is the second son of a privileged family in Sri Lanka. He prefers staging make-believe weddings, and wearing saris with his female cousins, to playing cricket with his male cousins. When his parents discover the games he plays he is punished and forced to abandon these “girly” games and adopt the rigid rules of the adult world. Bewildered by his incipient sexual awakening, Arjie painfully grows toward manhood and an understanding of his sexuality.

At the same time, he learns stories about how his great-grandfather had been butchered in an earlier riot (presumably the Gal Oya riots of 1956).

You were too young to remember when they brought the body home. ... It was as if someone had taken the lid of a tin can and cut pieces out of him. (p.58)

His father, who runs a flourishing hotel business, wants the Tamil insurgency defeated so that Sinhalas and Tamils can live in peace. However, his pragmatist stance is revealed to be morally hollow through a series of episodes, starting with when he is unable to stand up for a Tamil manager who rightfully reprimands a Sinhalese peon.

At the age of fourteen Arjie discovers gay sex with a schoolmate. At the same time, new riots have started. Tamil stores are burnt and looted while the police watch. Eventually their own house is burnt down and Arjie's father is forced to admit "It is very clear that we no longer belong to this country." On the last pages, the family emigrates to Canada.

The novel clearly has many autobiographical elements. Selvadurai and his family actually emigrated to Canada after the riots, in 1984.

In 2006, CBC radio presented a radiophonic version of the novel.


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