A dreamy, mesmerising story on the displeasures of growing upby Rebecca Liu / December 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
Kairo, a young boy living in Colombo on the cusp of adolescence, first meets the charismatic Jay at a church car park. “I needed a guide, a hero, illumination,” he remembers in Romesh Gunesekera’s new novel. “Jay, I now know, needed an acolyte.” Jay, impressing Kairo with his sophisticated vocabulary and the Bowie knife attached to his belt, invites Kairo to a bike race down a steep hill. Kairo agrees despite his fears. A friendship, and rivalry, is born.
The boys don’t realise it, but they are living on the cusp of a historic moment in Sri Lanka—then Ceylon—in 1964. Political tensions circle around their friendship, revealed through domestic chatter. Kairo’s parents—well-to-do enough to hold office jobs and have a servant—look provincial compared with Jay’s land-owning family, encased in a mansion filled with aquariums. Kairo’s father eagerly awaits the left insurrection; when he discovers the class background of his son’s friend, he speaks to Kairo using new words: plutocrats; absentee landlords; land reform. For Kairo, these sound like meaningless abstractions. That is, until he joins Jay on a trip to his family’s countryside estate, and observes how the leisure of the rich requires the toil of others.
Though it hints at the brewing unrest that would explode in the 1971 communist revolt, Suncatcher reaches its apex earlier. The life of a young boy, unleashed from the drudgery of school (closed during the turmoil) is occupied with other interests. Jay teaches Kairo how to fish, hunt and drive—a crash course in how to be a man. But what happens when a man-in-training wants to feel like the real thing? Suncatcher is a dreamy, mesmerising story on the displeasures of growing up, as Jay and Kairo both long to reach a state of being that captures both the uncorrupted nature of childhood and the cool maturity of adulthood. It may be rare to find that mix in real life, but it is in full abundance in Gunesekera’s novel.
Suncatcher by Romesh Gunesekera (Bloomsbury, £16.99)