Suncatcher: An excerpt from Booker-shortlisted writer Romesh Gunesekera's coming-of-age novel

  • Kairo's hard-working mother blows off steam at her cha-cha-cha classes; his Trotskyite father grumbles over the state of the nation between his secret flutters on horseraces in faraway England.

  • All Kairo wants to do is hide in his room and flick over second-hand westerns and superhero comics, before he meets the magnetic teenage Jay, and his whole world is turned inside out.

  • The following excerpt from Suncatcher, written by Romesh Gunesekera, has been reproduced here with kind permission from the publisher, Bloomsbury.

Ceylon is on the brink of change. But Kairo is at a loose end. School is closed, the government is in disarray, the press is under threat and the religious right are flexing their muscles. Kairo’s hard-working mother blows off steam at her cha-cha-cha classes; his Trotskyite father grumbles over the state of the nation between his secret flutters on horseraces in faraway England. All Kairo wants to do is hide in his room and flick over second-hand westerns and superhero comics, or escape on his bicycle and daydream.

Then he meets the magnetic teenage Jay, and his whole world is turned inside out.

Taut and luminous, graceful and wild, Suncatcher is a poignant coming-of-age novel about difficult friendships and sudden awakenings. Mesmerisingly it charts the loss of innocence and our recurring search for love — or consolation — bringing these extraordinary lives into our own.

This excerpt from Suncatcher, written by Romesh Gunesekera, has been reproduced here with kind permission from the publisher, Bloomsbury.

 Suncatcher: An excerpt from Booker-shortlisted writer Romesh Gunesekeras coming-of-age novel

Cover for Suncatcher; file image of Romesh Gunesekera.

That evening my parents had formed a coalition and when I came down for a bite, they pounced.

‘Son,’ my father started, ‘it has come to our notice…’

‘Oh, for God’s sake, Clarence, speak normally,’ my mother interrupted.

‘So, you tell then, mother superior.’

‘You were seen today Kairo, not on the badminton court where you were meant to be but in a jeep shooting down Bullers Road. In fact, the coach says he has not seen you at badminton since God knows when.’

‘I was there last week.’

‘Well, you didn’t make much of an impression on him then. But you certainly made an impression on all and sundry today in that ridiculous jeep.’

‘What is this jeep?’ My father craned his neck, aloof but puzzled.

In my father’s view, the best defensive action is to launch an immediate attack, so I went for it. ‘Who saw? Is it Siripala? How can you believe him? Do you know what he’s up to?’ A salvo at both. The next question directly at him, the weaker point: ‘Have you ever wondered why you never get any winnings?’

He squirmed. ‘Don’t change the subject.’

‘Funny how he says he got the bets confused every time your horse wins. He’s no fool.’

‘Not every time.’

‘You are the fool – to believe him.’

My mother intervened. ‘Don’t call your father a fool.’

‘I only meant…’ It was not the right word; not to fling at a father whose need was a lifebuoy more than a son to keep him afloat.

‘Whose jeep is it? And what were you up to charging around in it?’ My mother remained implacable.

‘I wasn’t driving it.’

‘I should hope not.’

‘It belongs to Jay’s uncle.’

‘And who the heck is Jay?’ My father tried to wrest back control.

‘My friend.’

‘I’ve warned you: be careful with fair-weather friends.’

‘He’s a good friend, not like your friends.’

‘I told you – don’t be cheeky, Kairo.’ My mother’s voice rose a notch.

I knew I was not going to get the better of her. It might be best to come clean. The Alavises were lucky. Their good fortune surely could not be a fault. I sketched out for my unhappy parents the dreamy grandeur of Casa Lihiniya and Elvin’s mansion.

‘Well, well, well,’ my father’s attempt at admonishment betrayed more than a hint of grudging admiration. ‘You certainly move in nefarious circles. No wonder you’ve kept it a secret.’ He sucked in a dose of parental seriousness and converted it into a manifesto point. ‘You should not be consorting with the class enemy, son, however dazzling they may be. Fool’s gold – that is all they accumulate.’

‘It has nothing to do with school.’

‘They are the haute bourgeoisie par excellence, your Alavises. Stay away or you’ll end up on toast.’

‘What your father means is that these people are not like us. You don’t belong with them.’

‘Why? What are we?’

‘It’s not so much a matter of what you are, but what you believe.’

‘Is this not a free country?’ That was a dangerous challenge at the best of times, with or without a sulk, risking a parental lecture in response that could last for hours. But, oddly subdued, my father barely managed a few short sentences: ‘Freedom is not easy in a state like ours, son. Greed motivates these people, not need. Mark my words.’ He paused, trying to decide between a warning and a prohibition. ‘Better you stay away,’ he added, without resolving the deeper issues that troubled him.

‘I’d prefer to be over there any day than in this dump.’ I could not stop the words, cruel as they were.

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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2019 09:44:09 IST