Book Club Spotlight – Funny Boy

Cover for Funny boy by Shyam Selvadurai. A Young Sri Lankan Boy in a bridal veil looks pensively over a background of burning palm trees.

June 28th will be the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Although we have come so far in equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to remember our history and those who came before us as we celebrate Pride Month. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai is a historical fiction novel taking place in Colombo, Sri Lanka when the Tamil diaspora was the target of racism and violence leading to the Black July pogroms and the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983 to 2009). Funny Boy is a work of courage in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Sri Lanka, that author Selvadurai faced before he emigrated to Canada to escape persecution. His novel portrays love and humanity in a time of violence, and was awarded the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award.

In the politically strife 70s and 80s Sri Lanka, a young boy must come to himself in his queerness as political and ethnic tensions threaten him and his affluent Tamil family. Though he is not aware of it himself, Arjie’s supposed homosexuality labels him as “funny” when he shows his feminine side and dreams often about the romance of true love. When he meets soon-to-be bride Radha Aunty, Arjie’s perception of love shifts as she falls for a Sinhalese man and their relationship threatens the family. As he matures, Arjie also falls for a Sinhalese boy and has to look past the shame to find himself as the ambivalent world violently crashes around them.

“For how could loving Shehan be bad? Yet if my parents or anybody else discovered this love, I would be in terrible trouble”

Shyam Selvadurai

This coming-of-age novel reminds us that the personal is political, and even in these war-torn and horrifying situations, queer people and love still exist and persevere. Like recent spotlight, Pachinko, Funny Boy follows international history and how it affects everyday people. Book Groups can discuss and learn Sri Lankan history and the story of human perseverance in the face of deadly circumstances, as well as the many themes and critiques of racism, class, gender discrimination, patriarchal structures, and, of course, homophobia. Selvadurai has had a lasting impact as a post-colonial author, with not only Funny Boy having both radio drama and movie adaptations but also having a species of spider named after him by Sri Lankan researchers (Brignolia shyami) which he expressed gratitude for the recognition from his homeland and for his work for reconciliation.

For more information on the history of Sri Lanka, the Civil War, and Tamil persecution:

To see more of our LGBT+ & Queer book club titles, visit the link here.

If you’re interested in requesting Funny Boy for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 10 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Selvadurai, Shyam. Funny Boy. McClelland and Stewart. 1994

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