Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book 100, Sri Lanka: "The Legend of Pradeep Mathew" by Shehan Karunatilaka

I'm in New York City and hey! Guess who just hit triple digits in his reading list? (Not aiming for quadruple digits, thank you very much.)

I've also ditched Anil's Ghost for purely practical reasons: it gets only a three-star rating on Amazon; this year's Commonwealth Writers Book Prize winner, by contrast, gets four stars, and also costs US$3.00 less as a Kindle book. Very useful these e-books are, when you're on the move.

Still, I'm not altogether sure if I've made the right choice. And it's not just the way this book is so heavily entrenched in the world of cricket, which I care not a whit for (its original title was Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, from the cricketing term). It's the rambling, rather directionless-save-for-the-Macguffin-of-a-hunt-for-the-legendary-cricket-bowler-Pradeep-Mathew nature of the book. 
No lush Ondaatje prose here: instead we've got the alcoholic sportswriter W. G. Karunasena, dying of liver poisoning and being a bit of an arse about it, indexing and cross-referencing and chronicling his search for Sri Lanka's greatest unsung cricket hero, blacked out from the historical record (literal blackout during the airing of a documentary on the guy!) due to grudges and anti-Tamil prejudice.
What's comforting on the other hand is the knowledge that I'm learning loads about what the country's like now, with its middle-aged middle classes still clad in banians and sarongs, with its multiplicities of Tamils and Sinhalese and Buddhists and Christians and Muslims and Hindus and English and yes, even a few Chinese. With its terrorism and its corruption and its decay; with its intermarriages and expatriations and thwarted dreams of glory.)

(Incidentally, the author reportedly lives and works in Singapore, and laments several times about how Colombo has declined since the colonial days of Ceylon, when it was the envy of our city; now Changi Airport and Mandai Zoo have far outstripped his nation's counterparts.)

Oh, and the whole thing's a metatext too. The book is a chronicle of its writing, and even extends *SPOILER ALERT!!!* beyond the fictional author's death*SPOILERS END*.  And though Karunatilaka claims he's fictionalised the names of everyone in the book, he's allowed the fiction to bleed from the page into virtual space: there's info on Mr Mathew online, too.

Better not go on too long. Attending my friend Edward Rueda's wedding in a few hours. Gotta go!

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:  The answer to my wife's question is of course a no. I would go down ina  hail of bullets for her and for Garfield many times over. And while Aravinda de Silva has delighted me on many an occasion, I wouldn't even take a blister for him.

But the truth, Sheila, is bigger than both of us, whether it be written on the subway walls or on the belly of a lager lout's T-shirt. In thirty years, the world will not care how I lived. But in a hundred years, Bulgarians will still talk of Letchkov and how he expelled the mighty Germans from the 1994 World Cup with a simple header.

Sport can unite worlds, tear down walls and transcend race, the past, and all probability. Unlike life, sport matters.

Next Book: Aung San Suu Kyi's Letters from Burma, from Myanmar.

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