Review by Choice Review
Despite its brevity, Reef covers a wide range without being forced or shallow. The scenes unfold with easy regularity, and the characters connecting them get the lives they intended for themselves. Uppermost among these characters is Triton, who, as a boy, takes a job as cook, valet, and butler with his rich Sri Lankan neighbor, Mr. Ranjan Salgado. The men's monkish routine is broken after ten years by the arrival in the house of a local beauty. Miss Nili's departure some months later accounts for another of the many changes Triton and Mr. Salgado must come to terms with. Some of the others--e.g., a 1983 outbreak of mob rule in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo--lace with violence the quiet domestic routine of the two men. Unrest also sends them to London, where they spend many more years balancing the claims of the moment with those of the past. Through it all, Reef generates a deep reassuring undertow. Though written by a young man, the novel has a reach and subtlety rarely found in the work of more seasoned novelists. The alert, amazingly curious Gunesekera knows how shoes mildew and rot in the tropics and how a soft, relaxing tropical mood can sour without warning. The ease with which his smooth-tracking prose brings to life such a rich variety of impressions makes Reef a joy. All collections. P. Wolfe; University of Missouri--St. Louis
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this thoughtful, entrancing tale of a Sinhalese houseboy's maturation takes place in the early 1980s, in the edenic calm before Sri Lanka erupts in violence. Marine biology and native cuisine become metaphors for political and personal change as Gunesekera chronicles the story of Triton, who is 11 years old in 1962, his father an alcoholic, his mother dead, when he comes to the estate of aristocratic bachelor Ranjan Salgado. At first, Triton does odd chores for the houseman and cook, but gradually the clever lad learns all the workings of the household, and he eventually emerges as Salgado's only servant-in the process becoming a skillful and creative cook. Salgado himself is a lonely academic, fascinated with marine life and the evolution of the sea. Triton takes care of his master with an almost parental love, all the while learning about the world from Salgado's conversations and his many books. Ultimately, Triton finds himself living on his own in London, an independent restaurateur, wistfully remembering his homeland in happier times. Gunesekera (Moonfish Moon) brings a moving combination of innocence and wisdom to Triton's first-person narration. His spare, lyrical prose evokes the sensuous heat of the tropical island and conveys mouthwatering descriptions of Triton's many culinary triumphs. And his take on the synergies of politics, nature and personal striving is subtle and intriguing. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The simple pleasures of the domestic arts well done become the stuff of metaphor in this wise and poignant tale of loss, both political and personal, by Sri Lankanborn Gunesekera (short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1994). The narrator, Triton, is brought to work for Mister Salgado in 1962, ``the year of the bungled coup,'' by his uncle, who has arranged a new life for him because he is in trouble at home. The setting is Sri Lanka, a place that some think was the original Eden, and as the story begins, life is still sweet and mostly tranquil. Eager to please and learn, Triton soon becomes the perfect servant and cook for Salgado, an affluent gentleman and scholar who studies local marine life, coral reefs in particular. Triton polishes silver until ``the pieces shone like molten sun''; makes superb cakes, curries, and even roasts and stuffs a Christmas turkey, preparing ``each dish to reach the mind through every possible channel.'' When Miss Nili, Salgado's mistress, moves in, he is pleased to serve her, too. But soon the household, like the country, is beset with troubles: Miss Nili quarrels with Salgado and runs off with an American; the political unrest, once sporadic, is now pandemic; and Salgado's best friend is murdered. Unable to forget Nili, Salgado, with Triton in tow, moves to Britain, where he has been offered a job. The two men are homesick, unable to return home as ``a Reign of Terror, a suppurating ethnic war,'' rages in Sri Lanka, but Triton, recalling a visit to one of Salgado's beautiful coral reefs ``where everything was devouring its surroundings,'' decides to make the best of it, and opens a restaurant. ``It was the only way I could succeed: Without a past, without Ranjan Salgado standing by my side.'' An extraordinarily accomplished mix of the sensual and the cerebral in beautifully detailed settings by a writer of great promise.
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