Shyam Selvadurai, a Sri Lankan-Canadian writer of mixed Tamil and Sinhala heritage, grew up in the highly politicized world of Sri Lanka politics. When riots erupted in 1983, he immigrated with his family to Canada.
The tension between the political and the personal that surrounded him in his youth dominates his writing, as his characters struggle to find happiness and personal fulfillment in an intolerant world.
Shyam Selvadurai’s first novel Funny Boy, is a coming-of-age story in which a privileged Sri Lankan boy awakens to the hostility of the genteel and privileged world that has nurtured him and now threatens the boy’s identity. Shortlisted for the Giller prize, it went on to win the Books in Canada First Novel award and The Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men’s Fiction.
“I am a self-professed autobiographical writer inspired by real people confined to the English speaking upper middle class of Sri Lanka where I grew up. This chosen territory, which I find rich and fascinating, gives the work and the language energy.”
Time and again Selvadurai returns to this world: Cinnamon Gardens, short listed for the Trillium Award, is set in the 1920s when the country was known as Ceylon. His characters navigate uncertainty, trapped in roles that deny their true nature. In 2005, he published a novel for young adults, Swimming in the Moonsoon Sea, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award.
Hungry Ghosts, published this spring, is Selvadurai’s first novel in a decade. In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts ”- spirits with a stomach so large they can never be full – if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free them by performing kind deeds and creating good karma.
Hungry Ghosts is a beautifully written story of family, wealth, and the long reach of the past that moves restlessly between war-torn Sri Lanka and the nightmarish immigrant dream of Canada; the personal and the political intersect as racial, sexual, and political differences tear at the lives of a family leaving them hungry for freedom and acceptance.