Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka – a drunken note

I could write a book about Chinaman; but its late and I am a bit drunk. So consider this a shitty first draft.

A post colonial post post modern and well earned insult to colonialism and its barbarities; legacies and loves. Consider jonny; ahem and cricket. And a sweet sweet love song to cricket the way Sri Lankans see it, do it and love it. A highly realistic tale about Colombo people; their lives, loves, hypocricies and most of all their sometimes maddening yet occasionally adorable and definitely scary craziness.DSCF8261

Well. I’ve read Chinaman three times over the last two or three years and pining to re-read except for the stack of un-read books tugging at my skirt each time I pass them. At the outset I wonder if non-Sri Lankans will understand the gems in this book. And even for some who are not from Colombo some of it might go over their heads. Let me elaborate but not now. Later. In a twisted way I like that the book contains so many Srilankanisms (if there is such a word) and that not everyone might get it.

The achingly tenderest morsels in Chinaman are the few times when WeeGee talks about his long suffering wife Sheila in the tenderest way he can possibly come close to for an Arrack loving cricket obsessed drunk. And of course his love for Jonny is the benchmark for friendships for the ages. Irrespective WeeGee is a great man. More on that later.

The cruel corruptions that is the Colombo bureaucracy and the lives they destroy.

Beautifully written; Thousands would kill to write like him. Funny and even better –Sri Lankan funny! But with substance to every page. And read it also to find out what I.E. Kugarajah told WeeGee and here is a bit of a priceless (see I told you. insider’s privilege) catalogue I kept note of:
1. That the Jaffna of his childhood was the most beautiful place on earth.
2. That he invaded the pitch in 1975 during an SL vs Aus World Cup Game at the Oval, carrying an Eelam flag.
3. That he lost more relatives in the 1977 anti-Tamil riots than he did in 1983.
4. That he was a founding member of Eelam Revolution Organisation of Students in Wandsworth in 1978.
5. That it matters not whether you believe the Tamils were only brought here in 1823. Or whether you accept that they’ve been here since King Ellara Cholan’s reign in 100 BCE. They are now here to stay.
6. That most Sri Lankan Tamils and many Muslims would fail Lord Tebbit’s famous cricket test.
7. That the Burghers told to ‘burgher off’ in the 1960s by the Sinhala Only policy were the island’s first example of ethnic cleansing and its biggest cultural loss.
8. That ministers who laugh loudly, cry openly, bomb civilians, and burn libraries deserve to die.
9. That he trained with Palestinians in Beirut in 180 and several Tamil recruits died during that training.
10. That Buddhist priests have no business carrying handguns.
11. That many Sri Lankan geniuses have been Tamil. Anandan, Sathasivam, Mathew, Kadirgamar, Ediriweerasingham, and the Thalaiver himself.
12. That everything has a price. And that a Sri Lankan victory is far more expensive than a Sri Lankan defeat.
13. That Satyagraha does not work.

See I told you at the beginning I’d lose you. This stuff is arcane to outsiders. Insiders privilege and all that. But for insiders this is flesh and blood. Fear not you’ll find your way. Its worth the trip. All the bloody way to New Zealand. Yup.

More to follow. In the interim — this is in my top ten books list. I am not being arrogant, believe me I am a nice person but I feel sorry for anyone who has not read Chinaman; or indeed is unable to devour it as if it were a wonderful plate of your mother’s yellow rice with a killer beef curry, brinjals, ATD etc. etc. with Watalappam for desert. And of course Arrack on the side.

More later. Await a properly written review soon. Read the book. Really. Read it. No sh*t. You thought ceylon tea was the best thing that came out of sri lanka. No man. This is it.

hicis. as they say in Sri Lanka.


2 thoughts on “Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka – a drunken note

  1. So bloody true . Wanting to write about the how great the book is but literally lost for words. The plot , the humour , the cricket , the sarcasm , the srilankanism ! Where do I start ! As a cricket lover and a srilankan , I knew that this book had innuendos and nuances that only those of my kind will be able to pick up on. That made it all the more special

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