Shyam Selvadurai’s ‘Swimming’ Debut
While “home” today for Shyam Selvadurai is undoubtedly Toronto, Canada, the “home” that he plumbs for his books remains Sri Lanka, where he was born, and lived there until the age of 19. Selvadurai’s latest, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea – his first for young adult readers – returns to the Sri Lanka of his youth, a time before the bloody riots between majority Buddhist Sinhalese and minority Hindu Tamils, which precipitated the immigration of Selvadurai’s mixed Sinhalese/Tamil family to Canada two decades ago.
While Selvadurai originally thought he might find a life in theater, the resounding success of his 1994 first book, Funny Boy, about a young boy’s growing up gay in Sri Lanka where homosexuality is still illegal, cemented Selvadurai’s writing career. He followed in 1998 with Cinnamon Gardens, exploring the intertwined lives of the residents in a Colombo suburb of 1920s Ceylon, which was then not-yet-independent Sri Lanka. Earlier this year, he edited the much-acclaimed anthology, Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers, capturing the diasporic South Asian experience featuring such diverse voices as Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Michael Ondaatje.
Selvadurai’s lush Swimming, which debuted this month, introduces 14-year-old Amrith, an orphan lovingly raised within the family of his mother’s schoolfriend, and what will mostly likely be his last summer of childhood, when a new relationship with a mysterious cousin from Canada changes his life forever.
AsianWeek: Tell me about writing your first young adult book?
Shyam Selvadurai: Out of all the books I’ve written so far, writing Swimming in the Monsoon Sea was my favorite writing experience. I really loved my editor. … She laid down limits as to what YA fiction was and what a teenager could process and was interested in. I think I am a writer who really responds well to limits and, since writing this book, I have begun to wonder if I am really a genre writer masquerading as a literary one. All of which to say, I think I will definitely write more YA in the future. Perhaps even give up writing adult fiction altogether! …[click here for more]
Tidbit: Shyam Selvadurai was a guest at SALTAF 2005 (South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival), a much-anticipated, highly-attended annual fall event sponsored by the Smithsonian APA Program and NetSAP-DC.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult